{shortcode-c06878c742dd38abffd80c04127b70d42416ad96}A core component of Harvard’s Fall reopening plan is its high-frequency viral testing for everyone returning to campus, also known as sticking a giant Q-tip up your nose every two to three days. While you know the boy standing exactly 56 feet away from you in the Yard has booger-free nostrils, what happens if your COVID tests come back indeterminate or (gasp) positive?


For students living in on-campus housing, testing has meant receiving a baseline COVID-19 test in the Science Center upon arrival to campus, then quarantining in two phases, each corresponding to a different level of restrictions. According to the procedure, students will have completed the second phase after their third negative test. Upon completion, they’ll proceed with switching over to unobserved, self-administered tests three times a week (I guess we’re all on the pre-med track now). Students won’t receive testing results until two days later, through the Broad Institute’s online portal system (at least this one doesn’t have Duo login).

Testing Positive

So what if you test positive? According to HUHS’s policies on viral testing, “a medical professional from HUHS will contact you and discuss next steps. You will be required to remain in isolation for at least 14 days.” An invalid or indeterminate test means another nose swab is looming in your future. You’ll also be contacted by a HUHS medical professional and later reached out to by an HUHS contact tracer — an exciting social interaction prospect for freshmen.

Through a 20 to 30 minute interview, the tracer will connect you to additional resources according to your needs and barriers to self-isolation, identify your proximal and close contacts over the past several days, and perform daily check-ins throughout the isolation period. Isolation locations will vary depending on your current housing situation. However, regardless of location, the protocol remains the same: Students will have to stay in their room for around 10 t0 14 days.

If Your Friend Tests Positive

If you test positive, the people directly exposed to you will have to receive a daily check-in and may be referred to additional testing (see this graphic for an aesthetically pleasing and informative guide). Harvard’s coronavirus policies FAQ adds that the Department of Public Health will only contact students deemed to be at an increased risk for contracting the virus because of close contact with another student who tested positive (it seems like good ol’ Harvard is selective to the end). Since all contact tracing communications through the College fall under a policy of confidentiality, it is up to each student whether, upon receiving a positive test result, they feel comfortable doing additional outreach to individuals they’re been around.

Students Living Off-Campus

Students learning remotely — including those living in the Cambridge/Boston area, deluding themselves that they’re living their regular on-campus lives — likely won’t receive regular screening tests. Only remote learning students with symptoms or close contact to someone who tested positive are allowed to be tested through a HUHS clinic — which may result in asymptomatic cases going unreported. Testing options also vary for remote students who have opted out of the student health insurance plan. Harvard has recommended that these individuals discuss testing options with their personal primary care physicians, especially if they experience COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms.

Academic Concerns

Though Harvard has expressed that a school representative will contact on-campus students daily “regarding academic support, the specifics for supporting your isolation period, and to address any other needed supports,” common practical academic concerns go largely unaddressed in email correspondence and the fall plan. College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an email to Flyby that “students should notify their professors in the ordinary way. The processes for requesting extensions are no different this year than in years past. If students require medical intervention off campus, the College will continue to support students via the academic and residential support structures that are in place.”

Furthermore, students testing positive for COVID-19 while learning remotely are on their own in trying to get guidance on these topics, even though procedures for who students should notify and how have yet to be clearly established. In the meantime, with many academic procedures unchanged or not outlined for this fall, we strongly encourage you to reach out to your House deans and professors to clarify any concerns you have sooner rather than later.