Masking and Covid-19 testing will remain optional on Harvard’s campus going into the 2022 fall semester and the school will stop providing free PCR tests to affiliates three weeks into the term, the University announced Wednesday.
Harvard students will be required to take one rapid antigen test upon arrival on campus and optional PCR tests will be provided through the first three weeks of the term, but the school will end its testing program on Sept. 16. Antigen tests will still be provided to College students on request from building managers in their houses.
Harvard will not provide isolation housing or contact tracing for affiliates who test positive to start the year.
The announcement, sent to school affiliates Wednesday by Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen, signals that the University will take an unrestrictive approach to managing the pandemic on campus going into the start of the academic year, despite the presence of new Covid variants.
Nguyen said Harvard is “prepared to pivot to more extensive protections,” such as a mask mandate, if warranted by changes in public health conditions.
Students will be eligible to receive eight free rapid antigen tests a month through their private health insurance, Nguyen wrote.
“Antigen testing is a fast, convenient, and reliable way to test when you have symptoms or want confirmation of your COVID status,” Nguyen wrote. “I highly recommend you take advantage of this benefit.”
The University is also monitoring monkeypox cases on campus and consulting public health experts.
Harvard stopped requiring Covid-19 testing in May despite rising Covid-19 cases on campus, citing that “there has not been a corresponding rise in the hospitalization rate.”
The City of Cambridge reported a 6.87 percent Covid-19 positivity rate over the past two weeks as of Aug. 10. Middlesex and Suffolk Counties, where Harvard’s main campuses are located, both have medium Covid-19 community risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Thanks to high immunity levels, many infections are mild,” Nguyen wrote. “However, hospitals continue to see serious illness, especially among older persons, those with chronic medical conditions, and people who are not up to date on vaccination.”
Students who test positive for Covid-19 will continue self-isolating in their dorms. HUHS will offer guidance to infected students via automated email, and students should “continue to notify their close contacts directly,” the announcement said.
HUHS will offer support to those with “complex medical situations as needed,” Nguyen added.
The outbreak of monkeypox, which has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, is an “evolving situation,” Nguyen wrote in his announcement. HUHS is working alongside the state of Massachusetts “to build capacity for testing and vaccine referral,” he added.
HUHS published updated monkeypox guidance on their website on Tuesday, detailing the virus’ symptoms, modes of transmission, vaccine information, and isolation recommendations.
Patients who test positive for monkeypox should remain in isolation until skin lesions are resolved and a new layer of skin is formed, Wednesday’s announcement said. Isolation times will vary from person to person and may last more than 21 days, according to HUHS.
“If you live on campus, HUHS will work with you and your School/Unit to manage your isolation,” per the guidance.
Those living off-campus should isolate at home, HUHS added.
“Mutual respect is a core value, so I ask that we all avoid any language or behaviors that stigmatize individuals or communities with monkeypox infections,” Nguyen wrote.
“While the media has largely focused on sexual transmission routes of this infection, it is important to understand there are other routes of transmission, including direct contact with infectious rashes, scabs, or body fluids and touching items (linens and clothing) previously touched by infectious rashes or body fluids,” Nguyen added.
Individuals who suspect they have a monkeypox infection or exposure and individuals seeking vaccine referral should contact HUHS, Nguyen said.