Testing, Exposure, Isolation, & Quarantine

As COVID-19 cases rise in our community, locally and nationally, we have gathered a list of FAQs to help you navigate the policies and procedures related to testing, exposure, isolation, and quarantine. 

For the University's full guidance on exposure, quarantine, and isolation visit https://www.harvard.edu/coronavirus/testing-tracing/exposure-quarantine-isolation.

For a complete list of the University’s coronavirus policies, procedures, and FAQ’s visit www.harvard.edu/coronavirus/faq.  

We understand that as the pandemic evolves, we have updated our policies in response to and with guidance from the CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Thank you for your flexibility and patience during this time.  If there are additional recommendations, we will continue to monitor and update this page as needed.

Preparing for Return to Campus/Boosters

What should I bring with me in case I have to isolate with COVID-19?

If you have to isolate, it is recommended that you have the following items already in your room/apartment/home: 

  • A digital thermometer 
  • Face masks (3-ply surgical masks, for example) 
  • Hand sanitizer and tissues (2-3 boxes) 
  • Over-the counter medication (if you are able to take):  
    • For fever: Acetaminophen (Tylenol ®, Paracetamol ®, or Panadol ®). Ibuprofen (Motrin ® or Advil ®). 
    • Cough medicine: such as Guaifenesin (Robitussin ®) 
    • Throat lozenges: such as Cepacol ®, cough drops. 
    • For nasal congestion and stuffiness: Decongestant (such as Phenylephrine (Sudafed-PE ®), Nasal spray-Saline mist, Ocean ®). 
  • 5 days' worth of clean clothing and personal items: such as toothbrush, toothpaste, prescription medication (if applicable), clean sheets. Please note, when in isolation you are not able to do laundry. 
  • Optional: water bottles, and/or preferred electrolyte drinks, snacks.

I am not eligible for the booster shot yet. Will I still be able to go to class?

Yes, you will be able to attend classes. You will, however, be expected to schedule and get a booster as soon as you are eligible.

HUHS has received both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in order to provide boosters to patients and staff, and is currently offering COVID-19 booster clinics. Find additional information on COVID-19 Booster Clinics at HUHS.

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Isolation is used for people with confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 while quarantine is for exposed close contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

Experiencing Symptoms

What do I do if I'm experiencing COVID-19 symptoms?

We recommend that you stay in your housing/apartment/home and follow Harvard’s guidance, notify the Crimson Clear Team, and follow quarantine guidelines according to your vaccination status.   

If you are outside of Harvard’s Color testing system, please visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/find-a-covid-19-test or access an at-home rapid antigen test and notify the Crimson Clear Team if you have a positive result.

Possible or Confirmed Exposure & Quarantine

I'm concerned about getting COVID. How often can I test through Color?

We recommend that you follow your testing cadence. If you develop symptoms or have come in close contact with someone positive for COVID-19, please follow Harvard’s guidance, notify the Crimson Clear Team by submitting a health attestation through Crimson Clear, and follow quarantine guidelines outlined below according to your vaccination status.

I’ve had the primary series of the COVID vaccine but have not had a booster. Will I have to quarantine if I am exposed?

  • If you received the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over 5 months ago and are not boosted, or if you completed the primary series of Johnson & Johnson over 2 months ago and are not boosted, you would be required to quarantine if you have been exposed to COVID-19. 
    • Eligible individuals who have not received their booster shot must now quarantine for five (5) days when they are exposed. 
  • If you are unvaccinated and learn you have had a possible or confirmed exposure to someone who is positive for COVID, it’s incredibly important to minimize your movement and exposure to others. Please notify the Crimson Clear Team and they can discuss your quarantine requirements and ability to self-quarantine.  

My roommate/housemate just tested positive for COVID. What should I do?

  • Be sure both you and your infected roommate/housemate wear well-fitting masks. Monitor your symptoms and drop off a Color test. Report this exposure through Crimson Clear. Your quarantine instructions will depend on your vaccination status. 
  • If you have been boosted or you completed the primary series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines within the last 5 months or completed the primary series of Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last 2 months, you should do the following: 
    • If symptom free: 
      • Wear a mask around others for 10 days, especially around eating/drinking.
      • Test with a PCR test on Day 1 and the morning of Day 5 of potential exposure. 
    • If you develop symptoms of any type, get a PCR test and stay home and quarantine, testing on Day 1 of symptom onset and Day 5. If the PCR test is negative on Day 5, AND symptoms have resolved (including fever free for 24 hours) you can be released from quarantine. 
  • If you have not been boosted and you have completed the primary series of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over 5 months ago, or if you haven’t been boosted and completed the primary series of Johnson & Johnson over 2 months ago, or are unvaccinated: 
    • Whether you have no symptoms or mild/severe symptoms, stay home and quarantine for 5 days. Test with a PCR test on Day 1 and the morning of Day 5. If the PCR test is negative on Day 5, AND symptoms have resolved (including fever free for 24 hours) you can be released from quarantine. After that continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days past Day 5 (i.e., Days 6-10). 

Does a negative rapid antigen test mean I can skip mandatory precautions like masking?

Please continue to follow all Harvard’s Stay Healthy guidelines, including wearing a mask, so we can continue to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Due to the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, we encourage the use of high-quality disposable masks, worn in a way that minimizes air gaps around the edges. A surgical-style mask or a cup-style protective mask such as a KN-95, layered under a form-fitting fabric mask, can ensure good filtration as well as an effective seal. ASTM or FDA-accepted masks offer greater assurance of filtration quality.

When I am in quarantine, could I visit with a friend/visitor if they also are quarantining?

If you live on-campus and you’re required to quarantine, you’ll need to stay in your room/apartment for the duration of your quarantine to minimize your movement and exposure to others. You are permitted to leave only to use the restroom, to continue with your prescribed testing cadence, for urgent medical matters/appointments, or to evacuate for a life-threatening emergency. You should not socialize with visitors or invite them to your residence hall/into your housing during the quarantine period. 

Positive Test Result & Isolation

I tested positive for COVID, but have not heard from a HUHS Contact Tracer yet. Do I need to isolate-in-place?

Yes, please isolate-in-place until you hear from a HUHS Contact Tracer because it’s incredibly important to minimize your movement and exposure to others. HUHS will contact you via your Harvard email about what it means to be positive and explain next steps. Contact Tracers rely on email for most communication, so please check your Harvard email for instructions about next steps. 

Please note, the HUHS Contact Tracing Team is currently experiencing a very high volume of calls and emails and follow up can take longer than expected. Please stay safely at home/in your room until you receive a message. Thank you for your patience! 

I tested positive for COVID and I am concerned. When should I call HUHS for an appointment?

  • If you are having difficulty breathing that is more than a mild cough and/or congestion in your nose. 
  • If you are having chest pain or tightness in your chest when you breathe. 
  • If, despite taking fever reducers as directed, your fever returns for more than 2 days or remains above 102°F (or 38.8°C). 
  • If you have prolonged vomiting or diarrhea and feel faint or dizzy. 

If I am positive for COVID-19 and start to feel more severe symptoms, who should I call?

If you start to experience more severe COVID symptoms, you should call the Urgent Care Nurse Line at (617) 495-5711. This line is open 24 hours a day/7 days per week and they will direct you to come to Urgent Care in person or go to the Emergency Room for evaluation. More severe symptoms may include: 

  • Difficulty breathing (more than a mild cough or nasal congestion)
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Fever above 102°F (or 38.8°C) after 2 days despite continuously taking fever reducing medications
  • Prolonged diarrhea, vomiting, or feeling dizzy/faint

If you are experiencing any mental health concerns while in isolation, the CAMHS Cares Line is available 24/7 by calling (617) 495-2042. This line is for all students needing emotional support and should not be used for questions related to COVID symptoms or to make medical appointments. For these COVID-related issues, please utilize the Urgent Care Nurse Line. 

If you need to access via TTY, dial (800) 439-0183.

Can I take my regular medications if I have COVID-19?

Yes, it is okay to take your regular medication, especially medication you may already use for asthma. 

What kind of mask is recommended if I test positive for COVID?

Masks are critical in reducing the spread of COVID-19. We encourage the use of high-quality disposable masks, worn in a way that minimizes air gaps around the edges. A surgical-style mask or a cup-style protective mask such as a KN-95, layered under a form-fitting fabric mask, can ensure good filtration as well as an effective seal. ASTM or FDA-accepted masks offer greater assurance of filtration quality.

If my roommates/housemates and I all have COVID, is it okay for us to eat together and not wear masks in our room/house?

We highly encourage you to continue following all recommended guidance on isolating due to multiple COVID-19 variants that are circulating throughout the community.

When I am quarantined or isolated, could I visit with a friend, even if they also have COVID?

If you live on-campus and you’re required to isolate in your room/apartment, you’ll need to stay in your room/apartment for the duration of your isolation to minimize your movement and exposure to others. You are permitted to leave only to use the restroom, for urgent medical matters/appointments, or to evacuate for a life-threatening emergency. 

You should not socialize with visitors or invite them to your residence hall/into your housing during the isolation period. 

Do I need to test negative to leave isolation?

At this time, the general public does not require a negative test to leave isolation. Please refer to CDC guidance if you are a healthcare provider.

Does a negative test during isolation (i.e., before Day 5) get you out of isolation?

No, you are required to isolate for at least 5 days, or until communicated by a HUHS Contact Tracer. After testing positive for COVID, you would resume your testing cadence after 90 days. Having an additional negative test prior to Day 5 of isolation does not enable you to end isolation early. 

I tested positive but don’t have any symptoms. Do I still need to isolate in place?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you must isolate in place until you are contacted by our HUHS Contact Tracing Team with instructions. If you have tested positive outside of the University’s testing program, please use Crimson Clear to report your positive test result and wait for our Crimson Clear Team to contact you via email or phone.  

Per the University’s updated guideline from the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health, infected individuals who have no symptoms or mild symptoms that are resolving with no fever may end strict isolation after 5 days. After your isolation period, you must always mask whenever you leave your home or are around others for 10 days from positivity date. This means that you should not dine with others unmasked and not attend any mask-free activities for at least 10 days. 

If I have only mild symptoms, I can leave isolation after 5 days if they've resolved. What are considered mild symptoms?

Mild symptoms are similar to that of a cold. If after 5 days you continue to have a fever or severe respiratory symptoms, continue to stay home until your fever resolves and your symptoms begin to improve. If you develop any symptoms after 5 days, report these through Crimson Clear.

I’ve tested positive for COVID and have a fever and a cough. What can I do to take care of myself while in isolation?

  • Drink plenty of fluids, like water and sports drinks, to prevent dehydration.
  • Take fever reducers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as directed. You can alternate if fever returns. 
  • Take cough medicine after taking fluids. Liquid cough syrup may help coat your throat and relieve some of the soreness from coughing. 
  • If you already use an inhaler for asthma, it is okay to use it as you normally would. 

How high is too high for my fever? Who should I call if I have any concerns about my symptoms?

If despite taking fever reducers as directed, your fever returns for more than 2 days or remains above 102°F (or 38.8°C) please call HUHS at (617) 495-5711 for an appointment (or your care provider). 

Will someone from my School still reach out to me during my isolation for academic support?

Yes. For students: a School representative will contact you regarding academic support, the specifics for supporting your quarantine period, and to address any other needed supports.

I have COVID and am isolating in my residence hall. How will food and supplies be handled depending on my location?

If you live in a School-operated residence hall, you will receive guidance on dining services.

I live in a residence hall. How can I eat and drink in my room while being safe with my roommate who is not COVID positive?

You can consider coordinating your mealtime so that it is different from your roommate’s mealtime. When eating in the same room, the other roommate should be masked. Try to maintain a distance apart from your roommate if you eat together. 

How will HUHS support me during my isolation in place?

Although you’ll be isolating in place, HUHS is here for you. Please see below on how to reach us.  If you need to access via TTY, dial (800) 439-0183.  If you are a student living in a School-operated residence hall or housing, your Resident Dean/Housing Manager can assist you with any dining services or questions about supplies.  

Medical issues - If you have any concerning symptoms such as elevated fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty breathing, feeling faint or dizzy, or vomiting, please call (617) 495-5711 to reach our Urgent Care Department or 24/7 Nurse Advice Line. They will provide further instructions for you to either present in-person or to go the nearest local hospital.  

Mental Health Issues - the CAMHS Cares Line is available 24/7 for all students who need emotional support by calling (617) 495-2042. This line should not be used for questions related to COVID symptoms or to make medical appointments. 

How will I be notified when my isolation has ended and how long should I be masking afterward?

You will be notified by the HUHS Contact Tracing Team when your isolation period has ended. Please check your email inbox for a message. 

Please continue to wear a mask for 10 days (5 days past isolation period) while you are around others and continue to follow all Keep Harvard Healthy guidelines. 

After Isolation/Recovery Period

Can I get my booster shot when I've just tested positive for COVID-19?

You should wait until you have fully recovered from COVID and have completed isolation. This means that you have completed the isolation and masking period (10 days), your symptoms have fully resolved, and you do not have a fever. Usually, 2 weeks after that it is okay to get a booster shot. 

I have just finished my 5-day isolation period. When will I know that I’m safe to be around others after having tested positive?

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should stay home and isolate for 5 days. If you have no symptoms or your symptoms resolve after 5 days, you can leave your home once cleared by a HUHS Contact Tracer. After your isolation period, you must always mask whenever you leave your home or are around others for 10 days from positivity date. This means that you should not dine with others unmasked and not attend any mask-free activities for at least 10 days. 

If after 5 days of isolation, you continue to have a fever or severe respiratory symptoms, continue to isolate until your fever resolves and your symptoms improve. This means you may need to isolate for more than 5 days.

If I’ve had COVID, how long do I wait until doing my next Color test?

You would resume your regular testing cadence 90 days after a positive PCR test. A contact tracer will notify you of when you will resume your regular testing cadence. If you develop symptoms during this time or have questions about an exposure after having COVID, please contact your healthcare provider and report through Crimson Clear.