Dear members of the FAS Community,
Earlier today, the University announced that, with limited exceptions, face coverings on campus will be optional in all indoor spaces on Harvard’s campus as of March 14. I am writing to describe how the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will implement this guidance across our School.
Beginning on March 14:
- All instructors will have the option of teaching without a mask, regardless of room size.
- In keeping with University policy, the FAS will grant instructors discretion to require masking in their classrooms.
- For all students, masks will be optional in the classroom unless they are required by the instructor. Students are expected to comply if asked by their instructors to mask in the classroom.
- Masks will be optional in all other indoor spaces, except at large indoor gatherings and events (including classes) that exceed 250 persons, where they will still be required. Please note that Harvard College may set different masking expectations for the undergraduate residential community and may establish additional restrictions as appropriate to the prevalence of virus in that community.
- If you feel the need to continue wearing a mask for your own protection, or the protection of someone close to you, you should do so. Wearing a high-quality mask that fits securely over the face without air gaps is an effective way to reduce your own risk.
As you consider whether to require masking in your classroom, please consult the University’s COVID-19 Testing Dashboard, which provides current information on positive cases in our community. Not all classes have the same risk profile. Currently, the overall number of cases in the University is low, but there are high case counts among undergraduates. As a result, instructors of classes with large numbers of undergraduates may choose to require masking at least until the prevalence of the virus in the undergraduate community is reduced, a choice enabled by University and FAS policy.
Please let your students know in advance of March 14 if you will continue to require masks. Masks will continue to be available in all FAS buildings for students who may forget to bring a mask to a class where one is required. Remember that the Resident Deans are there to support you to ensure that all students are following the requirements of your classroom.
While mask-wearing will be optional as of March 14 in all indoor spaces, many members of our community may continue to wear a mask. Anyone who wishes to wear a mask should feel free to do so in any setting. We need to remember that different people have different assessments of risks from COVID given personal or family health circumstances. Respecting the individual choices members of our community make within the requirements of our public health practices will continue to be an important way we support one another in the weeks and months ahead. As always, the University’s Disability Resources office can assist managers with requests for reasonable accommodations.
As noted in the University’s announcement, masks will continue to be required in certain settings, including in healthcare facilities, public transit, and University buses and shuttles. Masks continue to be required for individuals completing isolation or quarantine. It is recommended that everyone continue to carry a mask because you might unexpectedly find yourself in settings where masks are still required.
You can find the latest guidance on the University’s Keep Harvard Healthy website.
The move to mask-optional, arriving on the second anniversary of our March 2020 campus de-densification, is a significant milestone for our community and an encouraging sign that we are reaching a new stage in living, learning, and working in the presence of this virus. That said, the high case counts among undergraduates are troubling. The pattern defies trends in the rest of the University, as well as in the Cambridge and Boston area, and slows our return to normalcy. Personal choices are driving these higher numbers and we need to get them back on track.
Our ability to truly relax COVID restrictions across our campus and reclaim all aspects of the in-person classroom experience will depend in large part on every member of our community, particularly undergraduates, using all the tools we have become so familiar with over the past year. Socialize thoughtfully. If you are in a space that may increase your risk of exposure, consider masking up. When eating and drinking, consider staying in small groups and using distancing to lower your risk. These choices will determine the pace of our progress toward the simple but, so far, elusive collective goal of normalcy. I am confident we can get there, if we work together.
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences