COVID-19: Harvard Chan Classes Moving Online

March 10, 2020

Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community,

I am writing to follow up on the message you just received from President Bacow announcing that all classes at Harvard, including Harvard Chan School, will move to virtual instruction after Spring Break. This is certainly a major development and will have many ramifications in the coming weeks and perhaps months.

First, let me acknowledge that this decision puts all of us at Harvard in uncharted territory and that many if not all of us will have questions and concerns. We will do our best to address these as the situation unfolds. Please know that our utmost concern is for the health and wellbeing of the Harvard Chan community.

Our goal is to make this transition to virtual instruction as seamless as possible. Following this email, more detailed messages will follow in the next day or so to students, faculty, fellows, and staff that address immediate concerns and provide guidance moving forward. Major areas of focus include:

Academic continuity

Our primary goal is to ensure that students complete their courses. Adapting as many courses as possible to an online environment is currently underway. We will provide forthcoming guidance to faculty on how to use Zoom, Canvas, and other online collaboration technologies supported by our IT Department. Harvard’s new Teach Remotely site is filled with useful information. We will continue to provide support for all students who are working remotely.

Health and wellbeing/Social distancing

The coronavirus outbreak could potentially be one of the biggest public health challenges we face in our lifetimes. Although much remains unknown about COVID-19’s epidemiology and impact, we must plan for all contingencies, including cases on our campus and in our communities. Moving to virtual instruction is one of the ways we hope to slow down the spread of the virus and protect our community. Another is practicing social distancing. In accordance with the new University guidance announced today, we strongly discourage any non-essential meetings or events of 25 people or more on campus. For any gathering, take steps to lower risk and prevent spread of viruses: Employ video- and teleconferencing options wherever possible, such as Zoom; remind attendees to practice social distance, e.g. not shake hands; and ensure easy access to handwashing facilities and make sure alcohol-based sanitizers are readily available to all participants.

Preventative hygiene

If you are well, please continue to work as usual. It is essential that we all practice and promote good hygiene (vigorously washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; coughing/sneezing into a tissue or the crook of your elbow). These are basic, but effective methods to help limit transmission.

De-densifying campus

Science shows that the fewer people who are concentrated in an area, the lower the risk for everyone involved. One of our goals is to begin lowering the number and proximity of people on campus. As of right now there is no University directive mandating a remote work-from-home policy for staff and faculty and our campus will remain open. However, School leadership is closely watching the situation and working closely with the University. With the help of key staff and departments, we are developing worst-case contingency plans. In the event that the situation reaches a level that would significantly impede people’s ability to come to work, senior leaders are looking at options to allow for staff to work from home. To this end, we are exploring what resources we have and need to ensure that we continue to function as an educational institution and protect the health of our staff and faculty.


Those of you who are traveling or contemplating travel, please check the Harvard coronavirus website for the latest travel guidance.

Mental health

We realize that some members of our community may be worried about the effects of isolation as this situation unfolds. On Wednesday, March 11 at 3:00 pm in Kresge 606, Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, will host a dialogue on the mental health consequences of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. She will discuss the research, actions, and conversations necessary to address the mental health impacts of disease outbreaks. You may also call in via Zoom or by phone:

Meeting ID: 528 900 772

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Meeting ID: 528 900 772

Students who are experiencing distress and seeking support may contact Colleen Cronin in Student Affairs at 617-432-1542 or, or Harvard University Counseling and Mental Health Services at 617-495-2042 (617-495-5711 after hours).

Faculty and staff members may contact Linda Picard in Human Resources at, Jennifer Ivers in Faculty Affairs at, or Harvard’s Employee Assistance Program at 877-327-4278 (877-EAP-HARV).

Finally, I want to send my deepest appreciation to all the members of the Harvard Chan community who have been working around the clock to address this complex and fast-moving situation. We are lucky to have such a committed and knowledgeable team. I would also like to call out the faculty, researchers, and alumni who are working with domestic and global health authorities to address this global health challenge.

Most importantly, I thank you for your flexibility, patience, and support during this uncertain time. While we need to remain vigilant, we also must remain calm and thoughtful as we forge ahead. Thank you for helping our community to remain safe and healthy.


Michelle A. Williams, ScD
Dean of the FacultyHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development,
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School