Dear FAS community,
Yesterday the University shared a comprehensive update on Omicron and its implications for our campus operations. As was noted, we continue to see record high numbers of positive cases among members of the Harvard community, consistent with trends in the region and the nation, driven by this highly transmissible variant. Public health experts anticipate this surge to peak in mid-to-late January, a period when we will maintain a lower density of activities on campus. Early data suggests that Omicron causes less severe symptoms than infections with previous variants among those who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot. In our near-universally vaccinated population, this means that on-campus activities pose less health risk than before, even as we see positive case numbers rise. Our layered approach to protecting the health and safety of our community – employing vaccination, high-quality masking, regular testing, improved air filtration – has been further bolstered with the addition of a booster requirement. Although the transmissibility of Omicron presents new challenges, we are confident that with our public health protocols we can maintain a safe academic, research, and work environment for our community.
I am writing to share details of what these developments will mean for operations in the Faculty of Arts and Science this spring. In-person teaching and research are foundational to our mission, and we are committed to maintaining in-person instruction this spring. To accomplish this, we have drawn on our experience from the fall, and the core practices we have employed successfully throughout the pandemic to make further operational changes intended to respond to the particular challenges of this highly transmissible variant. But the hardest shift may be one of mindset. Making that shift will take time, but we will be mindful of the emerging data about the pathology of the virus as it applies to our practices, now and in the weeks and months ahead
Operational Plans for Spring 2022
Classes will begin in person as scheduled on January 24. Please review the University’s updated testing protocols to make sure you have sufficient lead time to comply with pre- and post-arrival testing requirements for your testing group.
Research lab activity will continue in person, including undergraduate and graduate student research.
All virtual library services resumed and some libraries re-opened on January 3, 2022, while others remain closed through January 23, 2022. Access to all library facilities will resume on January 24.
Campus operations during the first three weeks of January will be conducted at lower density. As was announced on December 18, managers will work with staff to reduce campus density where possible and appropriate. Student programs that require campus access will continue in-person as planned, as outlined by Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. As we understand more about the implications of the expected January peak in infections for our campus operations, we will keep you informed of any additional changes. Current campus status can be found on the Keep FAS Healthy webpage.
Arts and athletics competitive/performance and rehearsal activities will continue as planned following current guidelines and spectator restrictions. Recreational facilities will be open to students, staff, and faculty who are fully vaccinated and on a Harvard COVID-19 testing protocol. Hours are posted online. Masks must be worn at all times.
As announced by the University this morning, all members of the Harvard community are required to receive a booster shot no later than January 31. Individuals who are not eligible for a booster at that time must receive a booster within 30 days of becoming eligible. More information is available on the University’s Verify Your Vaccination webpage.
For at least the first two weeks of the spring term, indoor social gatherings will be limited in size and individuals must wear face coverings. No food is allowed at FAS gatherings, though “grab-and-go” is allowable. Outdoor gatherings will be allowed.
The University will continue to update guidance on visitors, which may have implications for spring graduate student admissions visits. GSAS will keep Directors of Graduate Studies apprised of relevant policy changes.
All on-campus dining will be available only via “grab-and-go” for at least the first two weeks of the term to reduce density in dining halls and other dining facilities.
In the context of Omicron, careful and consistent masking is even more important to maintaining campus health and safety. Please review the FAS masking policy and be sure to wear a high quality, medical grade mask.
- The University has updated its isolation and quarantine protocols to align with the recently modified guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Massachusetts Department of Health. Of note, residential students in FAS (College, GSAS) who test positive for the virus will isolate in place in their residence. This isolation model responds to the lower severity of symptoms of Omicron infection among vaccinated and boosted individuals, and its high transmissibility. More details about undergraduate isolation are available online.
While Omicron presents new challenges, our plan for spring remains fundamentally unchanged – we will pursue a semester of full in-person learning for College and GSAS students. Our strategy for mitigating classroom transmission has relied on vaccination, masking, and enhanced ventilation and this spring we will add the additional layer of protection afforded by booster shots. These measures maintain a low-risk classroom environment. Our plans recognize the primacy of in-person learning to our mission, and the reality that it promotes a sense of community, well-being, and positive mental health for faculty, staff, researchers, and students. We will continue to be evidence-based in our policy making and may alter course as additional data become available.
Late in the fall, we announced the intention to offer the option of unmasked instruction this spring in situations that meet the University’s guidelines. We will not move forward with offering that option at this time. All teaching this spring will continue under the FAS masking guidelines in place in the fall.
- Faculty should take steps now to prepare for maintaining academic continuity for their students who must isolate. The Office of Undergraduate Education developed resources this fall to help faculty in their planning. These include guidelines to help faculty prepare for the isolation of members of course teaching staff and for the possibility that they will need to isolate themselves.
We anticipate that the number of Harvard community members who test positive for COVID-19 in late January will be greater than at any previous moment in the pandemic, even as we implement the mitigation strategies described above. Testing remains an important tool in our management of the pandemic on our campus and we ask that all members of our community consistently comply with the testing obligations for their group. If you have a positive test result from outside the Harvard testing program, please submit the result according to the instructions on the Keep Harvard Healthy website.
Information and resources for students are available on the Harvard College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences websites. Frequently asked questions for faculty and researchers are available on the Faculty Resources page. Staff resources are available on the FAS Return to Campus page.
Through our commitment to campus-based teaching and research, we reaffirm the centrality of a campus-based community to the mission we pursue and recognize the mental health challenges for many community members associated with a virtual environment. Though the steps above are intended to secure our campus-based activities, we understand that restrictions and ambiguity can be a source of stress.
Students, we encourage you to engage your residential community, reach out to Counseling and Mental Health Services, or consult Harvard’s Center for Wellness and Health Promotion for additional resources to support your overall well-being.
- Faculty, Staff, and Researchers, please visit the Faculty/Employee Assistance Program site to learn more about the mental health resources available to you.
I am enormously grateful to all those who worked throughout the holidays to develop these operational plans and to the University’s Coronavirus Advisory Group for their expert advice and guidance. Looking ahead, we may again find ourselves making adaptations to our operations as circumstances continue to evolve, and we will continue to share more information in the weeks to come. We appreciate your patience and flexibility, as well as your commitment to our students and our academic mission, as we navigate this dynamic situation. As we enter another year of pandemic-adapted operations, I just want to acknowledge the long hours and hard work of so many in our community. As we lean in to put our academic mission first, let’s also lean on each other for support as we confront the challenges of continued change and uncertainty, on campus and at home.
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences