UPDATED: December 18, 2021 at 6:47 p.m.
Harvard will move to remote operations during the first three weeks of January, keeping most students, staff, and faculty away from campus over winter break as Covid-19 cases rise.
The announcement comes amid a surge in Covid-19 cases on Harvard’s campus, where 344 affiliates have tested positive for the virus in the last seven days. The move will not affect spring semester courses, which begin during the last week of January.
In an email to Harvard affiliates Saturday morning, University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote with other top administrators that the shift is “prompted by the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases locally and across the country, as well as the growing presence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”
The fast-spreading Omicron variant is already present on Harvard’s campus, the school said earlier this week.
Harvard's spring semester classes are scheduled to begin on Jan. 24, which falls outside of the three-week remote period. Faculty, staff, and researchers will work remotely during the first three weeks of the month “if possible,” the administrators wrote Saturday.
“We are planning a return to more robust on-campus activities later in January, public health conditions permitting,” the administrators wrote. “We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates on these plans as soon as we are able.”
Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana wrote in a separate email to undergraduates Saturday that the school is hopeful the buffer between the fall and spring semesters will allow it to reduce transmission risk before bringing students back in late January.
“While it is concerning to see a rise in COVID-19 cases locally and nationally, mainly due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it is helpful to have this happen between the fall and spring semesters,” he wrote. “In making these careful adjustments to campus activities in January, our goal is to reduce the risk of virus transmission and return for the spring term safely.”
Khurana also wrote that some individual academic pursuits — including senior thesis work — may occur in-person during winter break at faculty advisors’ discretion, even as University course instruction during winter break will be remote.
Despite the campus de-densification, Harvard athletic events scheduled for over winter break “will continue as planned,” Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott wrote to student athletes on Saturday. Spectators will still be permitted at games under current public health protocols, which include showing proof of vaccination and masking indoors.
McDermott added that student athletes who compete over the winter break will have to “strictly follow protocols.”
“There will be no team meals in restaurants and social gatherings may not occur,” she wrote. “We need to really go back to being in your team ‘bubbles’ when you are on campus.”
Other students will have to receive authorization to be on campus over break. Many undergraduates typically return before classes begin in January for winter programming on campus.
“Public health experts anticipate the increase in COVID-19 cases to continue, driven by the Omicron variant, which we have now confirmed is already present in our campus community,” the administrators wrote. “The Omicron variant is expected to become the dominant variant across the country in the coming weeks, potentially peaking in the first few weeks of January.”
Harvard announced earlier in the week that it will require affiliates to receive Covid-19 booster shots during the spring semester.
—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.
—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.