Harvard University COVID-19 updates

Department Message from the Chair

Message from the Chair

January 14th, 2022

Welcome Back to the Spring Semester!

I hope everyone had a good holiday, despite what we’ve all been living through. And on that subject, adding to several recent emails you’ve gotten from Harvard, I want to update you on MCB’s current status with respect to the pandemic.

Harvard plans to return to in-person operations on Monday the 24th.  The undergraduates are starting to return from all over the world.  They are tested once before they travel, and twice after they arrive. We’ll probably see a blip of cases as people return, but overall, the omicron wave seems like it will soon be on its way back down. Because the wave will still take some time to subside, for the first two weeks of the semester, FAS is asking us to minimize other large in-person gatherings other than classes.

In MCB, we will not have Friday@4 talks and TGIFs until March.  (Better when it’s warmer out anyway.) We do currently plan to proceed with a series of nine junior faculty search job talks in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, beginning Tuesday 25 January, unless conditions worsen. I recommend that people attending these seminars should do a PCR test on Mondays and Wednesdays, the days before the talks. Harvard doesn’t mind if we do some extra tests on top of our usual cadence.

Jessica Manning has provided instructions to faculty administrative assistants (and others) on how to order KN-95 masks throughout the department, as an increased safety measure we can take, funded by FAS.  We’ll also provide KN-95’s at the BL1080 lecture hall for the faculty job talks.

We encourage everyone to return to work in person on the 24th, not just people who are teaching classes. Some people may still prefer to work from home because of their own risk calculus and their own personal situations. For these first weeks of the semester, MCB PIs and supervisors should remain flexible on remote vs in-person work for the moment, while we’re in such uncertain conditions with an apparently receding omicron wave.

I do encourage everyone to be prepared for a full return from remote work. Not right now, while we’re still in the middle of this big omicron wave, but looking ahead to when it subsides. The pandemic has had an enormous negative impact on our science, on the careers of our students and postdocs, and on our friendships. MCB can subsist on remote work, but we cannot excel. New people are having a particularly hard time feeling integrated. We need to be fully present, working together as a community, to do our best work.

When this thing started, we knew we needed to buy time – time to develop effective vaccines, better treatments, and other layers of protective measures. Now we have the vaccines we needed, and so much more. The Harvard community is almost universally vaccinated, and the majority of new cases at Harvard are presenting mild or no symptoms. Along with the mandatory vaccination policy, Harvard also has a mandatory mask policy; a robust testing operation for the entire Harvard community (running out of MCB itself, in Northwest); and numerous other layers of protection including systematic upgrades of our building ventilation. Vaccination, testing, masking, and ventilation protocols have all been working effectively. The MCB environment is about as safe as we can make it, and is safer than many other environments we spend time in at home and around town. Even as we come out of this massive latest wave, Harvard is still aiming to be able to start relaxing the masking constraints as conditions are expected to improve through the spring.

We will keep making the best of difficult times, navigating as safe a path as we can while also moving our work forward together. I want to especially thank all the people who’ve had to come to work in person even through our most difficult times so far – including the hard-working staff of our child care facilities, many of our building operations, cleaning, and maintenance staff, security, and our animal care staff.

Sean Eddy