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‘We Cannot Let Our Guard Down’: O’Dair Urges Students on Campus To Refrain from Attending Large Gatherings

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Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair penned a stern email to students living in residence Wednesday after reports of large groups congregating — often maskless — along the Charles River in recent days.

“We have heard about gatherings with large groups of students along the river and in some cases in courtyards on campus,” she wrote. “In the event that you attend gatherings along the river or near campus, drink in public, refuse to wear a mask, or do not maintain social distancing, you are not caring for this community, nor are you abiding by the agreement to uphold local state and community guidance regarding COVID-19.”

Harvard asked undergraduates residing on campus — freshmen and a limited group of upperclassmen — to abide by a community compact that provides guidelines for living in residence. As of Sept. 9, the College permitted outdoor gatherings of ten or fewer participants but continues to bar indoor gatherings.

In her email, O’Dair wrote that while she believes students have adhered to the community compact policies, students on campus need to remain “vigilant.”

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“We are fortunate that as of today the semester has been largely successful in terms of compliance with the Residential Community Compact,” she wrote. “While this is good news, I write today to urge us all to continue to be vigilant and gather in small groups and in safe ways consistent with public health guidelines.”

O’Dair also reminded students the compact has teeth. The Community Council — an assembly of select students, faculty, and residential staff — will review violations of Harvard’s social distancing rules on a weekly basis, doling out warnings to non-compliant students.

“When a violation of the Compact is identified, they are empowered to respond in a range of ways, from a warning up to removal from campus housing,” she wrote. “While they are willing to intervene as needed, please do everything you can to avoid putting them in the position of having to do so.”

Reports of gatherings at Harvard come as colleges across the country grapple with students who are eager to socialize. Northeastern University dismissed 11 freshmen last week from university housing after they violated social distancing measures. In late August, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported that nearly a third of campus COVID-19 tests returned positive results.

O’Dair ended her note with a call for continued deference to public health guidelines, writing that Harvard students living on campus “cannot let our guard down” and allow “superspreader” activity to occur.

“We know that small, physically distanced interactions reduce the likelihood of infection and super-spreading events and that large gatherings are unsafe,” she wrote. “While a single infected person might not get sick, each of us could spread the virus. We have a responsibility to each other and those we don’t know to do the right thing.

—Staff writer Sydnie M. Cobb can be reached at sydnie.cobb@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cobbsydnie.

—Staff writer Declan J. Knieriem can be reached at declan.knieriem@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DeclanKnieriem.

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