A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

To Harvard Kennedy School’s Students, Staff, and Faculty,

As announced earlier today, the University is greatly scaling back the requirement to wear masks on campus.

Effective Monday, March 14th, masks will no longer be required at the Kennedy School except:

  • for individuals completing isolation or quarantine;
  • at indoor events with more than 250 people;
  • in classes and seminars where mask-wearing is required by the instructors; and
  • in small meetings where one of the participants asks other participants to wear masks.

Anyone who wishes to wear a mask should feel free to do so in any setting, and everyone should carry a mask for when you find yourself in situations where mask-wearing is required. We should all respect and support a range of individual approaches to mask-wearing.

Let me say a few words about this significant change in our approach to COVID and about our other COVID protocols.

Looking Back

We are coming up on two years since we closed the physical Kennedy School due to COVID. With cases rising in Massachusetts and the nature of the disease only beginning to be understood, Harvard dispersed the students, faculty, and staff to protect our health. For more than a year, the University operated mostly virtually, pursuing our mission and engaging with each other while physically distanced—with the important exception of some colleagues whom we needed to have on campus. After tests and vaccinations became widely available and appropriate behavioral changes became clearer, we came back together in person, but have still dealt with an array of protocols to keep us healthy.

I do not have the words to fully convey my appreciation for what you have achieved during these two years.

Despite the obstacles to our work and the personal challenges of sickness, caregiving, and worry, you have kept the Kennedy School moving ahead. Everyone has adjusted to new circumstances and accepted many conditions that are less desirable than normal, and the hard challenges and lost opportunities have generated mounting fatigue and frustration.

As I said at one meeting last month, I remember well when Karen’s and my daughters were young and we struggled to get through a typical workweek, so I can hardly imagine what the past two years have been like for parents of young children—or for people with other caregiving responsibilities or personal health challenges. Moreover, some at the Kennedy School, and many beyond it, have experienced personal tragedies during these two years.

I admire and am very grateful for your persistence. In light of the human costs of the pandemic, our continued progress in teaching, research, and outreach is truly remarkable.

Looking Ahead

COVID is not gone, as you know. But testing and vaccinations (including boosters), high-quality masks, and improved treatments for those who become ill have greatly reduced the health risks of COVID at Harvard and in the Boston area. Therefore, the University is following the lead of the CDC and our state and local governments by scaling back mask requirements.

Nevertheless, anyone who wishes to wear a mask should feel free to do so in any setting. We need to always remember that different people have different assessments of the risks from COVID and bear different risks because of personal or family health conditions. Please remember our norms of empathy, respect, and flexibility, and support a range of individual approaches to mask-wearing and other behaviors.

The University and the Kennedy School are maintaining other protocols designed to protect our health. The protocols that apply here include: continued COVID testing at the cadence we have followed so far this semester; the need for visitors to be registered in advance and to attest to being vaccinated; limitations on the number of non-Harvard visitors at events; an emphasis on people staying home and reporting through Color if they have COVID symptoms; and specific requirements for people who test positive.

Eating and drinking will be allowed at events of any size beginning on March 14th. Information about how students will be able to bring spouses, partners, and other guests to campus will be forthcoming shortly.

As you expect by now, these and other protocols may be adjusted over time by the Kennedy School or the University. Thank you for your ongoing willingness to adapt to the evolving medical information about COVID and the consequent changes in public health guidance.

Please continue to look out for your physical, mental, and emotional health and for the health of those around you. Resilience is a sensible goal, but external or internal exhortations to be resilient are not a substitute for needed self-careor for being good to each other. Have a good spring break—and if you travel, take a COVID test as soon as you return.

Best wishes,