In advance of Sunday’s deadline for on-campus students to move out of Harvard’s dorms, Sophia M. Fend ’24 said she pulled an all-nighter with her friends to commemorate their last weekend on campus.
“My friends and I tried to just have more fun together this weekend and just spend time with each other,” she said.
While some students — like Fend — spent their final moments on campus making memories with friends, others encountered various challenges as they were forced to pack up their belongings and move out of their dorms by Sunday at 5 p.m. Many left Harvard — which has experienced relatively few COVID-19 cases among undergraduate students — for areas that are currently beset by high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
For Alyssa N. Klee ’22, University rules imposed due to COVID-19 made moving out an even more stressful experience than it normally is.
Though students can usually leave belongings in their dorm rooms during winter break, this semester, students living on campus could not leave anything behind — even if they hope to return to Harvard in the spring. Harvard has yet to announce its plans for the spring semester.
“The biggest challenge was moving everything out even though I will hopefully be back in the spring for research,” Klee wrote in an email. “It was difficult financially, since I had to pay out of pocket, and academically, since I still had to keep up with classes and exams right at the end of midterms.”
Though the Undergraduate Council launched an initiative to make storage more affordable for students, Klee wrote her schedule conflicted with the UC storage plan, so she had to independently hire Olympia — a local storage provider that is more expensive.
And while some students would usually invite their parents to campus to help them move out, COVID-19 has disrupted those plans.
Bryan S. Han ’24 said he did not ask his parents to come to Harvard because he feared they would be exposed to the coronavirus while traveling by plane.
“I’m kind of worried,” he said. “If this was kind of like normal times, my mom would have helped me, or more of my parents would have helped me take stuff back home. So I didn’t tell my parents to come here.”
Before flying home to Georgia, Melody M. Wang ’24 said she was concerned that she could contract COVID-19 while traveling through crowded airport terminals.
“It is near the holiday season, and the infection rates have gone up quite a bit in Massachusetts, so I think I'll have to be extra vigilant at the airport and when traveling,” she said.
After touching down in Atlanta though, Wang described her trip as “relatively safe.” Though the flight was full, she said the middle seats were vacant.
Students who drove home said they felt safer. Jacob P. Winter ’24 said his family drove him home from Cambridge to Swartz Creek, Michigan. Though Winter said the drive is usually 11 hours, it took him, his parents, and his younger sister 19.5 hours to arrive home because the fastest route through Canada was blocked off due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Winter and other students said they anticipate further challenges now that they have arrived home safely — including spikes in COVID-19 cases in their home states.
Winter said the governor of Michigan has imposed fresh restrictions, including shuttering schools, in-person dining, bars, and movie theatres.
“It’s a little bit disheartening because when I left to come [to Cambridge], the restrictions were just lifting, and I wasn't able to enjoy the lack of restrictions,” he said. “And now I’m heading back to the same thing.”
Not all students who wanted to return home were allowed to leave campus, however.
Eric Yan ’24 said Harvard required him to quarantine at a hotel off campus after he received a positive COVID-19 test result on Sunday, November 15, despite receiving two negative test results days later.
Yan said he was frustrated by “inconsistent messaging” he received from the University. Those messages forced him to change his travel plans multiple times, he said.
Though Yan said the College sent him an email that he only had to quarantine for 10 days, he said Harvard University Health Services subsequently informed him that he had to quarantine for 14 days.
HUHS Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen wrote in an emailed statement that HUHS changes its COVID-19 protocols in lockstep with guidance issued by public health officials from the state.
“For many months, students with suspected COVID-19 exposure were advised to remain in quarantine for 14 days,” he wrote. “However, the state updated its guidance last week, just as students prepared to depart campus. HUHS and our contact tracing team quickly pivoted to respond to these latest updates.”
Nguyen also wrote that he empathizes with students who received varying information.
“As we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, guidance can evolve and change rapidly. We understand that some students have been frustrated with isolation and quarantine protocols recently.”