A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

Hello HKS Students, Staff, and Faculty—and happy new year.

I hope you had an enjoyable and restful break despite the continuing challenges of the pandemic and other issues. I am very grateful for your flexibility in adapting to the limitations and needs of this unusual January term.

As you saw in the message from Harvard’s leaders a few minutes ago, we plan to return to on-campus teaching, learning, and work at the beginning of the spring semester on Monday, January 24th.

This plan recognizes that the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant means that we will see many more COVID cases in the Harvard community during the spring semester than we saw during the fall semester. Indeed, Harvard’s COVID testing dashboard has shown a much higher positivity rate over the past few weeks than it did earlier. However, the evidence is growing that people who get Omicron when they are fully vaccinated and boosted generally have less serious symptoms than people who get the Delta variant or who are not fully vaccinated and boosted. By remaining off-campus during J-term, we have gained time for this evidence to emerge and for more people to receive a booster shot.

Now, with the Harvard community soon to be fully boosted, the University’s leaders, in consultation with its experts on medicine and public health, are planning some differences in our approach to COVID precautions for the spring semester. But I want to emphasize the importance of remaining flexible, because the planned approach may evolve if conditions warrant.

At HKS, we intend to proceed as follows—and although the following material is long, please read to the end:

  • You must receive a COVID booster shot by January 31st or as soon as you are eligible. If at all possible, please get your shot before returning to campus on the 24th. Shots are readily available at nearby pharmacies, including the CVS in Harvard Square. Students must satisfy Harvard’s other vaccination requirements as well.
  • You are strongly encouraged to get tested and receive a negative result (via Harvard’s Color system or other PCR test or a rapid antigen test) within 48 hours before returning to campus, in addition to satisfying Harvard’s other post-travel testing and quarantine rules. Students must take tests through Harvard’s Color system three times during their first week back on campus. Test kits are available at the security desk in the entrance to the Wexner building, and submitted tests are picked up at different times at various Harvard locations.
  • During the spring semester, you must test through the Color system at least once per week. Anyone who has a previously approved exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons must test more frequently. You must follow Harvard’s updated policies regarding isolation and quarantine and should recognize that these policies may continue to evolve.
  • During the spring semester, you must continue to be masked indoors on campus except when eating or drinking or in a private office. Cloth masks alone are not sufficient. The University encourages the use of surgical-style masks or protective masks such as KN-95s, with form-fitting fabric masks on top to ensure good seals. You also should continue to minimize close contact and maintain distance when possible.
  • As in the fall semester, classes will be taught in person but will be streamed so that students who cannot attend class because of illness can keep up with the material. However, students who are watching classes online because of illness will not be able to interact with their teacher or classmates during class time, because truly “hybrid” classes would introduce significant complications that could impair in-person learning.
  • For staff members, for January 24th and beyond, we will continue to support flexible work arrangements consistent with the responsibilities of your role. Please review with your manager your intended arrangement for the spring semester; for most people, you will be continuing what you did in the fall. We are grateful to the many people who responded to the December staff survey about these experimental new work arrangements, and the Human Resources team will use the results of that survey to strengthen flexwork at HKS over time. More information about flexwork arrangements can be learned online or from HR’s Associate Directors. In addition, Harvard is continuing its COVID policies regarding the use of sick time and paid time off to care for both sick and well dependents.
  • Other policies and information—including policies regarding visitors, events, eating on campus, and the operation of the HKS Café—will be updated in coming days on HKS’s COVID webpage and Harvard’s COVID webpage.
  • Some classes and other activities may be disrupted if key faculty or staff become ill and are unable to proceed on the intended schedule. The risk of disruption is heightened every winter by the flu and other illnesses, and we can see the significant extra complications of COVID in air travel and many other sectors of society today. Everyone should be prepared to make adjustments. Since early in the pandemic, we have talked about the importance of empathy, respect, and flexibility at HKS, and we need to continue to treat each other the way we want to be treated ourselves.

I and the other leaders of HKS understand that some of you may be uncomfortable or concerned about returning to campus in late January because of health vulnerabilities for you or your family members, child-care or elder-care responsibilities, or other personal issues. At the same time, continuing to advance our mission through in-person learning and work is vitally important. If you want to discuss your concerns about returning to campus related to risk or care responsibilities, please talk with your program director (for students), your manager or Human Resources representative (for staff, including fellows), or the academic deans (for faculty). For more general support in navigating the continuing challenges in the world, please reach out to Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services for students, the Employee Assistance Program for staff and faculty, and the Harvard chaplains for everyone.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I share your disappointment and frustration that COVID continues to bring risk and disruption to our lives and work after nearly two long years. Thank you for rising again to the challenge of pursuing our mission as fully as possible while protecting our health. I am looking forward to being back on campus with you for the spring semester and to seeing all that we will do together.

Best wishes,