Harvard remote for first three weeks of January, Yale sees largest-ever single-day COVID spike
Yale’s COVID-19 dashboard was updated with almost double the number of positive cases on Dec. 15 than previously known.
Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer
Harvard officials announced Saturday morning that the university would transition to remote operations for the first three weeks of January. Some academic offerings and work done by faculty and staff will be conducted online during that period. The same day, Yale’s COVID-19 dashboard was updated to reflect the largest number of COVID-19 cases the University has reported in a single day. Yale has not announced changes to either its spring classes, which are set to begin on Jan. 18, or its final exams next week.
Harvard’s decision does not affect undergraduate classes, which are currently scheduled to begin in-person on Jan. 24. Wintersession programs, which involve one week of classes, do fall within the three-week period and will be held remotely. Several of Harvard’s graduate and professional schools begin spring semester classes in the first weeks of January. Yale College’s courses are currently scheduled to begin Jan. 18.
“Please know that we do not take this step lightly,” the announcement from Harvard reads. “It is prompted by the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases locally and across the country, as well as the growing presence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”
Harvard’s winter athletic engagements, including training and games, will remain in-person, according to a message from Harvard athletic director Erin McDermott to athletics staff. The Yale men’s basketball team is currently scheduled to visit Harvard on Jan. 9.
In the week leading up to the announcement, 344 Harvard students, faculty and staff tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite experiencing the largest single-day spike in COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic with 34 positive cases on Dec. 15 — a number retroactively altered on Yale’s COVID-19 dashboard — Yale has not moved finals online nor made an announcement about the spring term.
Of the 34 cases, 20 are among faculty and staff, nine are among graduate and professional students, two are among undergraduates living off-campus and three are among on-campus undergraduates. According to its COVID-19 dashboard, Yale has seen 110 cases in the seven days between Dec. 11 and Dec. 17.
The figures on the dashboard for Dec. 15, Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 were retroactively altered from what they were yesterday. A Dec. 17 image of the COVID-19 dashboard reports 49 positive tests in the seven-day period between Dec. 9 and 15, while the dashboard currently reports 92 positive tests during the same window.
Cases have increased for all four testing groups: graduate and professional school students; faculty and staff; and undergraduates, both on and off campus.
The University has not yet clarified why the cases have retroactively increased.
“I say this as a generality, because I couldn’t speak to the actual causes,” said Richard Martinello, medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health and a member of the public health committee which advises University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler. “But with public health data, there’s sometimes delays from certain sources, so it becomes more accurate over time.”
Dean of the Yale School of Public Health Sten Vermund explained that the data which informs the COVID-19 dashboard is reported by both Yale Health and the Yale New Haven Health system.
Vermund told the News that reports of positive cases could come in over a several-day period, but that retroactive updating would not affect cases reported over a week before.
“Whenever we have a real-world dashboard and real-world disease surveillance, you will get some cases reported more or less instantaneously, or the next day, and then others that lag by two or three days,” Vermund said. “So you will see some backup dating. My guess is that’s what’s going on.”
The University has tightened COVID-19 restrictions as cases on campus have spiked.
In an email to students on Friday, administrators announced that students would be required to receive COVID-19 booster shots in order to return to campus for the spring semester.
“I think over the last few weeks it’s become very clear that not only does immunity wane over time, both from natural infection and from vaccination, it’s been clearly shown that receiving a booster shot helps to sustain one’s level of protective immunity and also provides protective immunity against infection,” Martinello told the News.
In a Thursday email, Yale COVID-19 Testing and Tracing Program Director Madeline Wilson announced that all students must take a COVID-19 test “within 24-48 hours” of their return to campus in January.
Students also received an email on Thursday from Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd announcing that all University dining halls would transition to “grab-and-go” service for the remainder of the semester, barring students from dining together indoors.
But final exams, which began on Dec. 16 and will continue until Dec. 22, are still being held in-person.
Professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, public health, management and economics Howard Forman told the News that there is as yet “not a great reason” to move finals online, adding that he is planning to continue administering finals for his classes in-person.
“My final is today,” Forman said. “It’s in a high-ceilinged room that seats more than twice as many people who will be taking the exam. Yale has documented zero cases, as far as I can tell, of classroom transmissions.”
Martinello told the News that he was not aware of any planned additional COVID-19 restrictions that would affect students in the remaining days of the semester.
Upon the return to campus in January, Forman speculated that students might be asked to begin the semester remotely to reduce risk of students bringing the virus back to campus.
“I’m presuming that that’s at least the lower limit of what the school would do, just for purposes of quarantine,” Forman said. “After arriving back, and doing the first aggressive round of testing, that makes a lot of sense to me.”
To avoid the possibility of a COVID-19 spike in January, Martinello advised students to get tested before returning to campus and to avoid situations in which they might be exposed to the virus over break.
Although the rise of the Omicron variant leaves much unknown, Forman said that he is hopeful that the semester will be able to proceed relatively normally after the reentry period.
“If we do twice weekly testing of students, we’re really in a pretty good position,” Forman said. “I hope we actually keep things close to normal for students. Yale has done extremely well, and I think it would be disappointing to change that, particularly when they have done as well as they have.”
Undergraduate students are currently required to test twice weekly.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.