Yesterday, we reported on Harvard’s announcement that students would be asked not to come back after spring break and that all instruction would move online. In practice, this means students have five days to evacuate their dorms. It’s a move that Harvard, and many other universities, have taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which is quickly spreading across the United States.
But for some students, this is not so easy. Not every student can afford the price of a last-minute ticket home. Others live in countries that are currently listed as epicenters of COVID-19, like Iran or Italy. And some simply don’t have a place to go home to. So there’s currently a grassroots effort underway to find housing for students who find themselves stuck because of the new directive. As of Wednesday, at least Google spreadsheets were being passed around, gathering information from families who might be willing to host a student. So far, we have come across one for Boston residents and another for Harvard alumni.
Many other universities are quickly transitioning to virtual instruction, including the University of Washington, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton, American University, Syracuse, the University of Maryland, and Rice University. In some cases, students have been encouraged to stay home, and in others, like Harvard, students are interpreting the directive to mean that they will effectively be booted out of their dorms.
Measures like shutting down schools—or putting entire cities on lockdown—are designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which will make it easier for the medical system to deal with a flood in cases and improve outcomes for a larger proportion of the population. But sometimes, vulnerable people can fall through the cracks. In China, for instance, the lockdown in Wuhan was effective at reducing the number of new cases, but according to reporting from the New York Times, seniors and the disabled struggled to manage everyday tasks, like getting food.
When we reached out to Harvard University yesterday, a spokesperson said, “The College is working directly with students based on a number of considerations, including financial ones.”
UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, Mike Burke, Harvard’s registrar of the faculty of arts and sciences, sent a note to students offering some monetary assistance to those who are on financial aid. Those who qualify will receive $200 to assist with shipping or storing their items. “If you exceed $200, or if you do not receive financial aid, the cost will be applied to your term bill,” the letter reads. There will also be staff stationed in dining halls to help students book travel. “All charges incurred will be applied to your term bill,” Burke explains. “However, for students receiving financial aid, your financial need will determine the amount of aid you receive.”