Harvard students who test positive for Covid-19 in the spring semester will be required to self-isolate — not move into university-provided isolation accommodation — and conduct contact tracing themselves , a radical departure from the school’s previous public health policies.
Harvard announced a series of changes to its public health protocols this week as it prepares to welcome students back to campus despite soaring Covid-19 case rates among school affiliates and residents. of the greater Boston area.
Harvard University Director of Health Services Giang T. Nguyen wrote in an email Thursday that the school had changed its Covid protocols in line with recommendations from public health experts and advice from health agencies. state and federal public health.
“With near-universal vaccination in our Harvard community, the majority of infected people in our community have no symptoms or mild symptoms that quickly resolve,” Nguyen wrote.
HUHS will no longer call students who test positive or contact their close contacts, Nguyen wrote. Affiliates who test positive will be responsible for notifying their close contacts.
“With cases at a rate nearly 20 times higher than the fall semester average, the contact tracing team will be communicating exclusively via email at this time,” Nguyen wrote.
As of Thursday evening, Harvard reported 603 positive cases and a 3.36% positivity rate over the past seven days, according to the University’s Covid-19 dashboard. Nguyen attributed the spike in cases to the Omicron variant.
“The highly transmissible variant of Omicron causes the majority of cases we see at Harvard, as it does nationally,” he wrote. “Last week, we reported 970 new infections at a time when campus density is relatively low. For comparison, our case count was 140 in the first week after the Thanksgiving break. »
Fully vaccinated people who come into contact with someone who tests positive will not be required to quarantine if they are asymptomatic, the HUHS email said. People who are unvaccinated or who have not received their booster will need to quarantine for five days after exposure, per CDC guidelines.
Harvard announced in December that it would require all affiliates to receive Covid-19 booster shots. Affiliates must receive the booster by January 31 or within 30 days of eligibility.
In a major change from its previous guidelines, Harvard will no longer require students who test positive to move to isolation accommodation for 10 days. Instead, Covid-positive students will be required to self-isolate in their dorms for five days, per current CDC guidelines, followed by five days of strict mask-wearing if they have no symptoms or symptoms that resolve. .
Students also have the option of self-isolating locally or relocating to another location if HUHS deems it necessary, according to an email Thursday from the Dean of Students’ office.
“The updates to the guidelines and protocols we have made recognize the unprecedented number of cases within our community that we must take care of, while continuing to take measures to reduce the risk of transmission,” wrote Nguyen.
Students whose direct roommate tests are positive may apply for alternative accommodation if they are asymptomatic and have tested negative, with priority given to those at increased risk of complications from COVID-19 and those in a suite where all other students have tested positive, by the DSO email.
“Alternative accommodations are limited and not guaranteed,” the DSO’s email read. “Decisions about alternative accommodations will be made once a day and students must move out within the given time frame.”
Harvard will provide rapid antigen tests in dormitories for students to take when they arrive on campus and HEPA filters in every bedroom and bathroom. The DSO email also announced that the University is working to acquire KN95 masks which will be available to students upon request.
Harvard University Food Services will serve take-out meals in campus dining halls for the first two weeks of the semester, according to the DSO email. Students who test positive will collect hot meals in a separate location.
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