Harvard will allow faculty members to teach without a face mask beginning later this week, a first step toward rolling back its Covid-19 guidelines as cases plummet in the Greater Boston area.
The announcement comes following new guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of Massachusetts saying that most healthy, fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks indoors. The City of Cambridge announced last week that it would lift its indoor mask mandate in mid-March.
“Despite increased infections in January compared with the Fall semester, recent cases have largely been mild thanks to our community’s high vaccination and booster rate,” University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen wrote in an email to all Harvard affiliates Monday morning.
Harvard has not yet announced any changes to its own indoor mask requirement — but Nguyen hinted on Monday that the school might do so soon.
“We will be updating our campus guidance in the coming days, and will announce any changes to our masking requirement before March 13,” he wrote.
As of March 3, each of Harvard’s 11 schools can set its own guidelines about instructor masking. Under University guidelines, the schools may allow instructors who are fully vaccinated and boosted to unmask. Only one instructor at a time can unmask in a classroom.
Just over an hour after the new University policy was announced, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay stated in an email to faculty that the FAS would allow vaccinated instructors to teach maskless.
Eligible instructors must have no symptoms of Covid-19 or recent close contact with an infected individual and must meet testing requirements. They are also required to inform their students ahead of time that they will lecture unmasked, Gay wrote.
“This change in policy marks another important step towards reclaiming our in-person, campus-based mission, in some ways the biggest we’ve taken as a community since we made the choice to pursue in-person instruction in the fall,” Gay wrote in the email.
Under the new guidelines, eligible instructors must maintain at least a six-foot distance from their students at all times during lecture.
Harvard’s campus saw 204 new cases last week — up from 153 the week prior. However, its positivity rate remains far below what it was at the peak of the Omicron surge in early January when the school recorded 976 cases in a single week.
“The option of unmasked teaching is appropriate to the campus conditions we are seeing now,” Gay wrote Monday. “I am confident that we can move forward while continuing to maintain a safe environment.”
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