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After making it through two weeks of the semester without a major spike in Covid-19 cases, Harvard loosened its public health restrictions last Friday.
Dining halls are once again operating at full capacity, and undergraduate testing cadence was reduced to twice per week.
The changes come as Covid-19 cases are declining rapidly in the greater Boston area. In Cambridge, just nine new cases were reported on Saturday, compared to 449 one month prior.
Harvard’s Dean of Students Office announced the updates in an email to undergraduates on Friday. The changes bring the school’s dining and testing policies back in line with what they looked like last fall, prior to the arrival of the Omicron variant.
In addition to relaxed dining and testing policies, indoor events will again be allowed to have food and beverages if they follow other University health guidelines, such as providing space for social distancing and notifying attendees that food will be available.
But several other precautions remain in place. Non-sponsored informal gatherings remained capped at 10 people, and students who test positive will continue to isolate in place and conduct their own contact tracing.
Harvard changed its Covid-19 restrictions at the start of the spring term to adapt to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which is highly transmissible but poses a reduced risk of severe illness to most young people. Many classes went remote for the first week of school, dining was grab-and-go for the first two weeks, and students were instructed to test three times per week up until the Friday announcement.
Over the past seven days, 209 Harvard affiliates tested positive for Covid-19, including 47 undergrads, per the University’s Covid-19 Dashboard. The positivity rate on campus has been steadily decreasing over the past month — from 5.07 percent during the first week of January to 0.60 percent last week.
The updates also come after some students have spoken out against continued Covid-19 restrictions in recent weeks.
Sophomore Rajiv M. Sastry ’24 said he thought the initial policies were a “wise choice,” for the first few days but needed to be loosened as the semester kicked off safely.
“Once it became clear that there was not going to be a significant spike in cases, I thought that the policies were a little bit heavy-handed,” he said. “And [they] especially disadvantaged kids who didn’t live in the river houses.”
Ben Meron ’23 said the dining hall reopenings provided a needed space to get to know housemates.
“It makes it a lot easier to socialize and have a community, especially in some houses where there’s not one central building. The dining hall really is the center of the community,” Meron said. “A lot of people agreed that at the beginning of the semester, it didn’t really feel like the semester really started.”
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