Harvard will phase out its Covid-19 testing requirements over the next three weeks, the school announced Monday, marking the end of one of its last remaining on-campus pandemic precautions.
Starting April 28, affiliates who do not live on campus will no longer be required to test regularly. Just shy of two weeks later, on May 10, the University will drop its weekly testing requirement for affiliates who live on campus.
The change, which will take effect for on-campus residents just days prior to the end of the spring semester, comes despite a spike in on-campus Covid-19 cases over the past two weeks.
“Universal testing in the absence of symptoms no longer plays the important role that it had in months past, when infection posed a much greater risk,” top Harvard administrators, including University President Lawrence S. Bacow, wrote in an email announcing the change on Monday.
The administrators acknowledged the increased rate of positive tests in recent weeks, driven by cases among the graduate student population but wrote that “there has not been a corresponding rise in the hospitalization rate.”
“High vaccination and booster rates, along with other advances such as the availability of effective treatments, have contributed to the declining toll of COVID in our community,” they wrote.
After the testing mandate ends, affiliates will continue to have access to tests.
“Although regular testing will no longer be mandatory, we encourage testing when circumstances warrant, using Harvard’s Color testing program or rapid antigen tests that are now widely available,” the administrators wrote.
The move away from asymptomatic testing follows recent steps by the University to ease its remaining Covid-19 restrictions. On March 14, the school’s mask mandate was lifted in most indoor spaces.
Earlier this month, the University also updated its travel guidance to remove a requirement that unvaccinated affiliates must submit travel petitions for University-related travel.
Some public health experts say that stopping asymptomatic testing is safe if schools have high vaccination rates. Around 98 percent of Harvard students and 97 percent of school employees are vaccinated.
Across the river, Boston College and Northeastern University have both ended testing mandates for vaccinated affiliates. Boston University lifted its asymptomatic testing requirement for faculty and staff on March 7 but will continue requiring on-campus students to test until the end of the spring semester.
Still, Harvard administrators encouraged anyone who is still concerned about Covid exposure to wear high-quality masks.
“This offers excellent protection even in the presence of unmasked persons,” they wrote. “We highly encourage the voluntary use of masks in crowded settings, including airplanes and public transit.”
Following Harvard’s March 29 announcement that it would relax its mask mandate, six organizations and over 170 affiliates signed a petition urging top administrators to reinstate the requirement, writing that loosening restrictions “puts the onus of protection on those who are most vulnerable.”
In an interview Friday, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said it is not “appropriate for us to depend entirely on high-risk people to protect themselves,” even as Harvard winds down major Covid requirements.
“We can make the people who continue to wear masks feel comfortable, or at the very least not feel uncomfortable wearing masks in various settings,” Garber said. “We can be very accepting and accommodating of requests that they might make, for example, to be distanced at some meetings or some kinds of interactions.”
In the Monday announcement, Bacow, Garber, University Vice President Katherine N. Lapp, and Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen wrote that the University will continue tracking trends in Covid-19 positivity rates.
“We will continue to monitor hospitalization rates and other indicators of disease activity on campus, to ensure that our policies and protocols are effective without being unnecessarily burdensome,” they wrote.
—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.
—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.