Information, guidelines and policies for MD students

Updated 12.15.2020

All Harvard faculty, staff and students must follow the University's policies and guidelines found on the Harvard University COVID-19 webpage. This page provides important guidance for HMS students regarding remote courses, travel policies, campus restrictions and visiting or returning to campus.

For Spring 2021, the MD program at HMS will be welcoming preclerkship medical and dental students to Boston in January for January and spring semester courses. Medical students in their clinical rotations have been back since the summer.

We expect that throughout the January-June period, public health guidance will remain in place that will limit capacity in our education spaces and require physical distancing, regular testing, and the ongoing requirement to wear masks.  Personal protective equipment (PPE) will be provided to students.

With safety considerations paramount for our students, faculty and staff, the curriculum will be “hybrid,” with some sessions conducted remotely and some in person. Different courses will have varying versions of “hybrid.”

Priority for in-person courses will depend on course content that – unlike didactic material, which can work well via Zoom – can best be learned in person, such as aspects of the physical exam in the Pathways Practice of Medicine course or the HST Introduction to Clinical Medicine course, or Objective Structured Clinical Exams (OSCEs) and hands-on laboratory exercises. Many laboratories will be open for in-person research opportunities.

For returning medical students, we will continue to hold in-person research and clinical experiences while continuing to closely follow institutional guidelines and public health developments. 

Program leaders will be communicating with current and incoming students, faculty and staff to provide additional details — including information on start dates, travel, housing, visas and financial aid/support—relative to their respective programs.

While we are looking forward to having all of our students back on campus in January, it is important to be mindful that this is a constantly evolving situation; flexibility will be required and we will update our projections as new information becomes available. 

For any student having trouble with logging in for remote coursework, please see the HMS IT Work Remotely webpage for instructions on how to download the latest Harvard version of Zoom.  


  • Testing

    Any HMS student who will be living in a Harvard residence, coming to campus for required activities, or who wishes to obtain an HMS COVID-19 viral test, must do the following:

    Prior to Arrival on Campus:

    • Complete Harvard COVID-19 Safety Awareness Training
    • Verify your testing eligibility.
      • Login to Crimson Clear and go to “Profile”.
      • The COVID-19 Testing Information page will list your testing profile information.
      • Verify that you are listed as eligible with the appropriate cadence based on your individual status as described below. If you find that you are not listed as eligible, or if your cadence is incorrect, please contact your academic department.
    • Create your Color account (detailed instructions below). This is a critical step, as testing is required for campus access and you cannot obtain a test kit until you have successfully activated your Color account. If you do not complete this step prior to test pick-up, you may be delayed in getting a test, which will delay access to campus or clinical environments.

    Campus Access:

    • Any person who is symptomatic should contact their physician and not come to campus.
    • The HMS campus is considered closed with the exception of those who are authorized or have received an exception to be in HMS campus buildings.
    • EACH DAY that you come to campus, you must complete a Crimson Clear health attestation, which will remain active for 23 hours. We recommend that you complete Crimson Clear at home before heading to campus.

    COVID Viral Testing Frequency:

    Per the University’s Testing Policy:

    • If you live in Vanderbilt Hall or another Harvard residential building, you are assigned to testing “Cadence A,” and you must test 3 times per week. Test kits are provided to Vanderbilt residents on a weekly basis.
    • If you are a non-residential student, but you have been approved to be on HMS campus for 4 hours or more per week, you are assigned to testing “Cadence D,” and you must test 2 times per week.
    • If you are a non-residential student and you do not have a required campus presence (i.e. clerkship students), you are assigned to testing “Cadence D” and may test on an ad hoc basis, but you have no required weekly cadence for testing. Please note that you may receive pings from Color reminding you to test; however, non-residential students are only required to test for the weeks when on campus for 4 hours or more.

    Creating a Color Account

    • Visit using your computer or smartphone web browser.
    • Click “Sign In” (On a computer this is located top right in blue lettering. On a smartphone, click the three stacked lines on the top left of your screen and then “Sign In” is located at the bottom of the drop-down menu.)
    • Go to “Don’t have a color account?”, click on “Create One”, and fill in first name, last name, and email address. 
      • You may give a Harvard or personal email address, which will become your login name and the email address where you will receive testing notifications. A verification email will be sent to the email you provide, and you will need to access it to create your account. If you choose a non-Harvard email as your preferred email, you may be asked to provide your “organization” email address, which you may find at under Official Email.” This site requires a HarvardKey login. You will need to access your Harvard email to verify your identity, but all future interactions will be with your preferred email address. Failure to authenticate via your Harvard email may result in delays in getting a test and access to campus or clinical environments.
    • After entering your email address and password, click the red “Create Account” button.
      • Troubleshooting for account creation errors: Log in to Crimson Clear, go to your “Profile,” and confirm that you are listed as eligible on the COVID Testing Information page. If you are not listed as eligible, contact your department. If you are listed as eligible, contact for assistance.
    • Once your account is created, you will be prompted to indicate what kind of testing. Click on “I’m interested in COVID-19 testing.”
    • When you go to pick up your kit(s), you will be asked to show the Color account “Activate a Kit” screen. You should not click “Activate a Kit” until you have picked up and are ready to administer your test.

    Obtaining a Test

    • Test kits can be picked up in the New Research Building (NRB) at 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur in the ground floor lobby according to the schedule below. Please note that hours are reduced during holiday weeks, including the weeks of December 21st and 28th.
    • Please enter through the 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur entrance and be ready to show the attendant your Harvard ID and the Color app displaying your eligibility.
    • Show your “Activate Kit” screen in your Color Account. This may be found on your dashboard. If you do not see it, go to the three stacked lines in the top left corner, and click on “Activate Kit.” 
    • When you are ready to take your test, click on the red “Activate Kit” button.
    • Complete the Pre-Test Survey (you will need to complete this every time you take a test)
    • Confirm your email, birthdate, and phone number
    • This will bring you to a graphic of the test tube on its side and ask for two barcode #’s. These numbers are found on the light blue card in your test envelope.
      • Enter the D # where prompted, DO NOT enter the dashes, numbers only.
      • Enter the C # where prompted
      • Confirm the numbers are correct
    • Once activated, you should receive both an email and text message, and you are ready to proceed with test administration.
    • Upon receipt of your test kit, you will be asked to exit the building through the double doors closest to the amphitheater.
    • You may not administer the test in any public area. You should test in your dorm room or other private space (i.e. campus restrooms). If testing outdoors, face away from others and maintain at least 8 feet of distance.

    Administering a Test

    • Each testing kit contains information on how to administer the self-test.
    • A helpful self-paced training module is also available in the Harvard Training Portal.
    • Please follow the steps detailed below.
      • Swab on the day that you will be dropping off your completed kit.
      • Activate the tube with your Color account so they know it is yours.
      • Wash your hands and find a clean place to test. Use only one tube each day.
      • Make sure to obtain the sample correctly.
      • Push the cap back on to the tube and make sure it is tightly secured.
      • Completely seal the bag so your tube doesn’t fall out.

    Dropping Off a Test

    • After collection, deposit your sample as soon as possible in the collection bin located in the NRB ground floor lobby near the stairs leading to the 1st floor and garage elevators.
    • Prior to depositing your completed test kit, please be sure to type the bar code numbers from your test kit tube into the “activate kit” screen in Color.
    • A list of all drop-off bin locations can be found here

    Testing Compliance

    You must test according to the frequency determined by your testing cadence, described above. HMS regularly monitors testing and Crimson Clear compliance data. You will get pinged by Color reminding you to test based on your cadence; however, non-residential students are only required to test for the weeks when you are on campus for 4 hours or more.










    Normal Hours

    8am – 12noon, and

    2pm – 4pm


    8am – 12noon, and

    2pm – 4pm


    8am – 12noon

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    Week of Dec. 21

    8am – 12noon, and

    2pm – 4pm


    8 – 12 noon ONLY, must drop sample by noon

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    Pick-up closed, Single Sample Collection at 2:30

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    Week of Dec. 28

    6 am – 2 pm only; must drop sample by 2 pm

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    6 am – 12 noon only, must drop sample by 12 noon

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    Pick-up and Sample Collection Closed

    Special Shift 8 am – 2 pm only, must drop sample by 2:30 pm

    Pick-up closed, Single Sample Collection at 2:30

  • Academics

    What if I am absent from a virtual class or miss a session due to illness?

    • Faculty understand that this is a time of great ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have been encouraged to practice flexibility and understanding of the need to extend deadlines. If you are ill, first prioritize your health and call Harvard University Health Services at 617-495-5711 or your primary care provider for advice to determine whether to get assessment or treatment. Contact your course instructor to discuss protocols for missed classes or late assignments. Also contact your academic society to let them know if you are ill and need to miss class.

    Will the move to virtual learning affect my F1 visa?

    • Government guidance issued on March 10 assures Harvard that international students can participate in online classes without concern for their immigration status, provided they continue to make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations.

    Should I still meet my mentor in person?

    • No, have your meetings by video, phone or teleconferencing options.

    If I have a role at an HMS-affiliated hospital with stricter policies/guidelines than HMS, whose guidelines should I follow?

    • If your affiliated hospital has stricter policies/guidelines for travel, meetings, events, etc., please follow those specific policies/guidelines.

    Will there be any refund for changed classes?

    • There will not be a refund for changed classes. Students will continue learning the same materials remotely.

    Who should students contact with questions or concerns about this guidance?

    • Students should contact between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. with questions or concerns. Student Affairs will ensure that your questions or concerns are directed to the appropriate office. 

    How can I avoid or how will accommodations be made to disruptions to the research in which I am involved?

    • All faculty and program leadership are sensitive to students’ needs during this uncertain time. Special accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Health & Wellness

    This is a difficult time for everyone. The pandemic is affecting our global community’s physical and mental health. Please take all the common-sense hygiene approaches: wash hands frequently and well; avoid close contact, such as handshaking, hugging, etc.; practice social distancing; and avoid crowds. Monitor your temperature. If you are ill and have symptoms such as a cough, fever and/or muscle aches, contact Harvard University Health Services at 617-495-5711 or your doctor before going in. If you have been in direct contact with anyone with COVID-19, stay home and isolate yourself.

    • Watch the HMS Coping with Coronavirus web series for help dealing with daily stress, anxiety, and a range of other emotions
    • It is important to recognize that this is also a challenging time for mental health. Contact Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services for counseling and mental health resources.
    • Although you are physically remote, remain virtually connected and engaged with our community. HMS and program staff are available for you by email and Zoom. 
    • Exercise, and get sleep. 
    • Additional mental health resources are being developed, and we will share them here and by email as they come online. 
  • Housing

    Harvard University Housing: Updates to application and leasing processes.

    • Who should students contact with questions or concerns about this guidance?
      • PLEASE CONTACT between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. with questions or concerns. Student Affairs will ensure that your questions or concerns are directed to the appropriate office.


  • Travel Restrictions

    What are the current policies regarding Harvard-organized and Harvard-funded international travel for students?

    Harvard-organized and Harvard-funded international travel for all students that is scheduled to start and end between now and August 31 is prohibited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. State Department have issued global level 3 and level 4 advisories: “avoid nonessential travel” and “do not travel,” respectively. It is unclear when those restrictions will be lifted. We know that many of our students – undergraduates as well as graduate and professional school students – rely on summer travel to further their education, fulfill academic requirements, and explore new work environments. This decision is difficult and disappointing, but we urge students to contact their individual Schools, centers, and programs to explore creative options for alternative summer study, research, and work. For more information, see the memo from the Vice Provost for International Affairs.

    I am an international student. What is the latest guidance on obtaining or renewing my visa?
    We are closely monitoring the worldwide suspension of routine visa processing at U.S. consular locations and advising international students and scholars accordingly. We anticipate that many newly admitted and returning international students and scholars will face delays in obtaining or renewing visas. The Harvard International Office (HIO) continues to issue the necessary University documentation for F-1, J-1, and other visa applications, so that when consular processing resumes, students and scholars will have the forms they need to schedule visa appointments. Visit the HIO COVID-19 webpage for the latest immigration updates and advice.

    My travel has been canceled, and I am worried about my academic progress? Who can I speak with?

    • Contact your society advisory dean and society coordinator as well as the HMS registrar for guidance.
  • General Questions

    What if I am interested in contributing the clinical mission during the pandemic?

    • Opportunities to contribute to the effort in our hospitals are available. These are organized around each of the four PCE hospitals and their affiliated institutions. Check with your advisory deans for information about these opportunities.  While these experiences will not represent a “clerkship,” there will almost certainly be a way to capture this as your month’s activity, meaning as a community service elective. Please remember that these opportunities are entirely voluntary.