Harvard Business School (HBS) in Boston, Massachusetts has just experienced a significant Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak despite more than 90 percent of students and staff being fully vaccinated.

The school has a population of more than 1,700 students who are enrolled to earn a two-year MBA degree. According to the school’s COVID-19 data, 95 percent of the students and 96 percent of staff are already fully vaccinated. But this status as a nearly 100 percent fully vaccinated educational institution did not stop the coronavirus from making its way through the students and staff.

COVID-19 cases in Harvard started rising in September, with two-thirds of all COVID-19 cases recorded in the month coming from students. One statement from the HBS said COVID-19 cases among MBA students surged by 20 percent in just three days.

“Our positivity rate is 12 times that of the rest of Harvard,” said HBS Dean Srikant Datar. “These distressing figures are so high that they have attracted the scrutiny of local public health officials.”

Harvard Business School reverts almost entirely to online instruction

To avoid further scrutiny from the public and to preserve the image of Harvard, Datar and several of the university’s administrators have announced that HBS will instruct almost all of its students online until at least Oct. 30. This change affects almost all first-year and some second-year courses.

This is one of the first instances of a major university halting in-person instruction due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The university said it made this decision after receiving advice from public health officials employed by the city and the state.

In addition to forcing graduate students back indoors for at least another week, HBS announced that it is increasing the number of COVID-19 tests it forces upon students to three per week. The university’s previous requirement was for fully vaccinated students to get tested once a week and unvaccinated students to get tested twice per week.

Mark Cautela, spokesman and head of communications for HBS, said in a statement that the business school is also requesting that students avoid participating in social gatherings with anybody outside of their households and instead socialize with friends online.

Cautela added that students should avoid gathering indoors without masks or traveling in groups.

“Contact tracers who have worked with positive cases highlight that transmission is not occurring in classrooms or other academic settings on campus,” said Cautela. He further claimed that the transmission is occurring only among members of the school whenever they are unmasked.

Several of the MBA students enrolled at HBS said that some of the COVID-19 cases among their ranks were due to students going to off-campus parties. Some of the parties mentioned include one “Great Gatsby” themed house party attended by several hundred people.

Another possible point of infection mentioned was one large group trip to Puerto Rico that involved dozens of first-year MBA students.

Harvard has disavowed being involved in the planning or execution of any of the events.

If it is true that the students contracted the coronavirus outside of the classroom, then it begs the question of why the university is keen to end in-person classes and shift students to online instruction.

According to Harvard, graduate students represent the majority of active COVID-19 cases on campus. The university administered 41,864 COVID-19 tests between Sept. 20 to Sept. 25. Those tests turned up 74 positive results. Of those 74, 60 came from graduate students. 

As of press time, the university has 28 students in quarantine who tested positive for COVID-19. Another 87 students are in forced isolation after significant exposure to a COVID-19 positive person.

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