Harvard will lift its mask mandate for most indoor spaces starting March 14, the school announced Monday.
Strict mask requirements have been central to Harvard’s efforts to prevent the spread of Covid on its campus for the last two years. But on Monday, top University administrators signaled that the school will usher in a new phase of its approach to managing the pandemic later this month, with relaxed requirements in nearly all indoor spaces.
The announcement comes as Covid restrictions are being relaxed across the country — including in the Greater Boston area. The revisions to Harvard’s on-campus requirements on March 14 will coincide with changes to Covid policies in the city of Cambridge, which announced last month that it will lift its indoor mask mandate on the same day.
Masks will still be required at large indoor gatherings, in health care facilities, and in transit facilities. Individual professors will be able to require masks in the classroom.
Top University administrators — including University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 — wrote in a Monday email to Harvard affiliates Monday that Harvard has seen few hospitalizations and no Intensive Care Unit admissions this year, despite reporting a large number of cases.
“Although public health authorities have concluded that the virus causing COVID is likely to continue to circulate among us like the cold or flu, the risks it poses for the health of our community can be managed effectively with less intrusive measures than before,” they wrote.
While case rates are declining across most of the University, cases have surged among undergraduates in recent weeks. Between Feb. 28 through March 4, 294 College students tested positive for Covid-19, accounting for more than 80 percent of Harvard’s total cases, according to the University’s Covid-19 testing dashboard.
In a follow-up email on Monday, the College announced a set of more stringent requirements for undergraduates that will take effect immediately. Non-sponsored social gatherings will be banned in indoor residential spaces until March 28. Students will also be required to test three times per week.
“We will assess case counts on March 28 to determine if we can return to our current practice and will consider several factors when easing restrictions – among them, high testing compliance rate and positivity rate that aligns with the rest of the campus,” Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair wrote in an email to undergrads.
Administrators also urged undergraduates to continue wearing masks indoors, even after the University’s requirement is lifted.
Beginning March 14, all Faculty of Arts and Sciences instructions will be able to teach without a mask, regardless of class size. Masks will be optional for students in the classroom, though individual instructors will be allowed to require them.