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Harvard Will Soon Loosen Mask Requirements, Garber Says. But Covid Cases are on the Rise Among Undergraduates.

Harvard reported 52 Covid-19 cases among undergraduates on Wednesday.
Harvard reported 52 Covid-19 cases among undergraduates on Wednesday. By Julian J. Giordano
By Ariel H. Kim and Lucas J. Walsh, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard will soon relax its indoor mask mandate, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 told faculty members at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Garber told members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that the school will announce plans to roll back masking requirements in some indoor spaces within the next week, signaling that a major change to Harvard’s flagship pandemic prevention protocol is in the works. He did not specify when changes would take effect.

In the days surrounding Garber’s remarks, Covid cases have shot up, driven overwhelmingly by a surge in positive tests among undergraduates. Cases among College students have risen steadily over the last three weeks. More than 240 College students tested positive for the virus between Feb. 25 and March 2, according to the University’s Covid-19 testing dashboard.

The school’s seven-day positivity rate sat at 1.05 percent as of Thursday evening.

Some professors voiced concerns about the potential impact of loosening mask restrictions, pointing to the recent surge. But Garber contended that few cases have required hospitalization, despite the high number of infections caused by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. No affiliates have been sent to the ICU due to Covid, he said.

“At this moment with the variants that are currently prevalent, we feel fairly confident that a high infection rate does not translate into substantial morbidity and mortality for most of our population,” he said.

Garber’s remarks come following new guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of Massachusetts that allow healthy, fully vaccinated individuals to unmask indoors. The city of Cambridge announced last week that it would lift its indoor mask mandate in mid-March.

Under new guidance issued earlier this week, faculty members are now allowed to remove their masks while lecturing. As of Thursday, schools can set their own policies for instructor masking. Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay announced in an email Monday that FAS instructors who are fully vaccinated and boosted will be able to teach unmasked.

Garber said during Tuesday’s faculty meeting that students will have to remain masked in classrooms, but he said masks will no longer be required in some indoor spaces.

The timeline for the changes remains unclear.

“Harvard’s indoor masking requirement remains in place and the University will be updating its guidance in the coming days,” University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement Thursday evening. “As Boston has announced its indoor masking requirement will lift on Saturday, March 5, the University is working to update our campus-wide guidance as soon as possible.”

—Staff writer Lucas J. Walsh can be reached at lucas.walsh@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

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