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Harvard will end contact tracing during spring semester, university health official says

Signs on the Harvard University campus tell students to wear a mask during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, on Oct. 5, 2020.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Harvard University says it will no longer conduct contact tracing and students who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to notify close contacts themselves, a university official said in a message to the Harvard community last week.

Giang Nguyen, executive director of Harvard University Health Services, announced the changes to the university’s COVID-19 policies as students prepare to return to campus for the spring semester.

“With our Harvard community’s near universal vaccination, the majority of infected individuals in our community are having no symptoms or mild symptoms that resolve quickly,” Nguyen wrote in the message. “Thus, we are confident in our ability to proceed with plans for in-person learning in late January while applying new protocols which include community-wide boosters and a shortened period of isolation-in-place followed by strict masking.”


Harvard reported 366 new positive cases in the last week with a positivity rate of 2.5 percent, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. Ninety-eight percent of students and 97 percent of university employees were vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the dashboard.

All students, faculty, staff, and researchers are required to get their booster shot by Jan. 31, or 30 days after becoming eligible for a booster, Nguyen wrote.

Harvard decided to end its contact tracing program “due to the high volume” of cases, Nguyen wrote. The university will notify students via email if they test positive for the virus and will “provide guidance on notifying close contacts,” the message said.

Students who are infected with COVID-19 but show no symptoms and have no fever can end their isolation after five days but must wear a mask outside of their homes for 10 full days, Nguyen wrote.

Students who are unvaccinated or have been vaccinated but are behind on getting their booster shot are required to quarantine for five days if they’ve come in contact with someone who tested positive, Nguyen wrote. Students who are fully vaccinated with a booster shot do not have to quarantine if they’ve been exposed to the virus, Nguyen’s message said.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.