FAS Spring Updates

January 19, 2022

Dear colleagues,

Over the past few weeks, you have received messages from many sources—from the University and Harvard University Health Services, to the Office of Undergraduate Education, Harvard College, and me—outlining changes to policies, plans, and protocols for the spring reflecting our current understanding of the implications of Omicron for campus operations and the recommendations of the University’s medical and public health advisors. I know this is a lot of information to manage at a time when we are all stretched thin, at home and at work. I’m writing to you today to pull the highlights of those changes together in one place for faculty, researchers, and staff and to share a few observations as we prepare for the first day of spring classes.

If your recent experience is anything like mine, you are starting to see Omicron make its way into your network of family, friends, and colleagues. The prevalence and transmissibility of this variant only heightens the importance of proper masking for reducing viral exposure and viral emissions. But while many of us are seeing firsthand just how infectious this variant is, even among the vaccinated and boosted, we are also seeing its more moderate (though still often unpleasant) symptoms in that same population. Omicron is different, and we can anticipate that our spring term will feel different as a result

Though the precipitous drop in COVID levels in Boston metro area sewage is an encouraging sign for the trajectory of the virus in our region, it doesn’t change our fundamental assumption that we will see a high number of positive cases in our campus community at the start of the term. An influx of many cases at once will be disruptive, and we’ve taken a number of steps to manage that disruption and enable a successful start to the new term. Lots of detail is provided later in this message, but I want to draw your attention to three important pieces of information.

 

  • First, undergraduate residential students are being tested before they travel to campus and twice when they arrive (an antigen and a PCR test) and will then transition to being PCR-tested three times per week. We also have recommended pre-arrival testing for faculty and staff who have been away from campus.
  • Second, new medical-grade masks are now available. The FAS has always provided 3-layer ‘procedure masks’ to members of our community and established these masks as our minimum masking standard. If you would prefer to use a KN-95 mask, these are now available to all FAS community members by request.
  • Third, we are increasing flexibility at the start of the term. This includes increased flexibility for instructors to teach online in the first week (January 24-28) and the continuation of remote work for staff, as possible and appropriate, at the discretion of managers. During the semester, instructors also will have the discretion to switch temporarily to remote instruction at times when significant proportions of their students are in isolation. Instructors are not obliged at any time to provide hybrid instruction (teaching both in-person and online at the same time).

Though the transmissibility of Omicron presents new challenges, we remain confident that with our layered public health protocols—mandatory vaccination (including boosters); masking; testing; improved air filtration—we can maintain a safe teaching, research, and work environment for our community. That said, we fully recognize that carrying out our mission in a context of disruption is anxiety-producing and degrades our capacity, individually and collectively. Both in our personal and professional lives, we all rely on supports and services that are similarly experiencing disruption, from child- and elder-care to K-12 education and medical services. We need to recognize that things are not “business as usual” for anyone in our community at this time. As instructors, managers, mentors, and colleagues, navigating another intense but hopefully short-lived period of disruption, it is important that we thoughtfully differentiate between our priority activities, the things that are mission-critical and must be accomplished now, and everything else, which must wait. Making those judgments can be difficult, and I want to recognize faculty and managers who have worked hard to make the right decisions for their students, staff, and colleagues, even when conditions were fluid and guidance was hard to come by. None of this is easy. I appreciate both your commitment to our mission and the care and concern you have shown for others, which are so important to our institutional resilience and our strength as a learning community.

Please take a moment to review the detailed guidance below and follow the links as needed to more information. [As a reminder, The FAS Reporter, which circulates every Thursday, also provides an overview of all changes in COVID guidance and a snapshot of FAS campus status is always available on the Keep FAS Healthy page.]

 

With best wishes,
Claudine

__________________

Claudine Gay
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

 

 

Return to campus protocols

Residential undergraduate students are strongly encouraged to take a PCR test prior to arriving on campus for the spring term. Students are required to take both an antigen test and a Harvard PCR test on the day they return and to take a second Harvard PCR test 48 hours later. Students are also required to limit social contact until they have received two negative Harvard PCR tests. They will then transition to regular testing three times each week. More information on spring arrival protocols for undergraduates is available here.

Faculty, staff, and researchers who have been away from campus are encouraged to take a PCR test 48 hours before returning and to submit a Harvard PCR test the day you return to campus. Updated testing requirements and cadences can be found on the University’s COVID-19 webpage. To preserve Harvard testing capacity, FAS managers may continue to delay return to campus until further notice for those staff who can perform their functions from home.

Teaching resources and support:

As a reminder, the Office of Undergraduate Education has expanded guidance for the spring term to help faculty prepare to return to the classroom, including increased flexibility for instructors in the first week of the term and at times when significant proportions of their students are in isolation. The OUE website provides guidance for supporting students in isolation and guidance for maintaining academic continuity should faculty or course instructors themselves need to isolate. To be clear, instructors are not obliged to offer hybrid instruction (teaching both in-person and online at the same time); other adaptations are likely to be more straightforward and just as effective. Additional information is available on the Faculty Affairs COVID updates page. Of note, University policy now requires that faculty and instructional staff continue to mask in classrooms and other academic settings.

Public health protocols:

Last week’s message from HUHS included additional information and several reminders on the University’s current public health protocols, including:

  • Booster requirement: Harvard is requiring all students, faculty, staff, and researchers to have received a COVID-19 booster by January 31, or 30 days after an individual becomes eligible for the booster. Once you have received your booster, please report it to HUHS by following the instructions on the Verify Your Booster page.
  • Masking: The FAS supplies three-ply, disposable surgical masks that comply with the FAS Masking Policy to all community members. In addition, KN-95 masks are now available through your FAS School or department, upon request. Please contact your department administrator for additional information.
  • Reporting COVID exposure and/or symptoms: Use Crimson Clear to report a COVID exposure or symptoms, and if you test positive through a non-Harvard PCR test (outside of Color) or an antigen test, please report it to HUHS through Crimson Clear. Of note, you are not required to confirm a positive antigen test result with a PCR test.
  • Isolation and quarantine: The University has updated its isolation and quarantine protocols to reflect a shortened period of isolation-in-place followed by strict masking. As a reminder, residential students in the FAS (College, GSAS) who test positive for COVID will isolate in place in their residence. More details about spring isolation and quarantine protocols for undergraduates are available here.
  • Contract tracing: The University has also updated its contact tracing protocols. For individuals who test positive, a HUHS contract tracer will send you an intake email containing your isolation requirements and resources, including an email template to notify your close contacts, whom you are now responsible for notifying.
  • Mental health support: Harvard offers many health and wellness resources as we all continue to manage the stress and uncertainty of navigating the ever-changing circumstances of the pandemic.

Campus guidance:

Visitors should be limited to individuals coming to campus for an academic-related purpose at this time. Visitors must be notified that Harvard requires both COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters and that visitors must be up-to-date before coming to campus.