University President Bacow Recovers From Novel Coronavirus


University President Lawrence S. Bacow has fully recovered from the novel coronavirus, he said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette Monday.

Bacow first informed Harvard affiliates he and his wife, Adele F. Bacow, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 24. At the time, he wrote that the two tested positive after first experiencing symptoms on March 22. He and his wife experienced coughing, followed by fevers, chills, and muscle aches.

Bacow told the Gazette — a University-run news publication — that he and his wife were “surprised” they contracted the virus. He said they had been very careful to isolate themselves 10 days before they started experiencing symptoms.

“One reason we had taken such precautions is because I live with an autoimmune condition that makes me very susceptible to any kind of infection,” Bacow said. “In fact, some people questioned why I actually got tested. It’s because I’m immunosuppressed. So I was at risk. And when we tested positive I thought, ‘This is going to be interesting.’”


Bacow added that while he was the president of Tufts University in 2004, he fell ill and had to take a month off work to care for his health. He said while he was ill with the virus, he wanted to “model” the type of actions he hoped others would take.

Bacow did not go completely “off the grid” while he was recovering, he said. He regularly checked emails, spoke daily with his Chief of Staff Patricia S. Bellinger '83 and Senior Fellow of the Corporation William F. Lee ’72, and received reports from Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76. Bacow also spoke over the phone with Massachusetts Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 and other officials in Cambridge, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

“I’ve been on calls with the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, and the American Council on Education,” he said. “Last weekend we had the governing boards meeting on Zoom. We had a full meeting of the Board of Overseers and a meeting of the Corporation.”

Bacow said he and his wife “must have received a thousand responses” from people — students, faculty, staff, and alumni — all over the world when they made headlines after announcing their diagnosis.

“What was a little strange was lying in bed sick watching CNN, if I recall correctly, and having them report on me being sick,” Bacow said. “That was a bit of an out-of-body experience. Once it made the national news, we started hearing from old friends and family from around the country and around the world.”

In a video accompanying the interview, both President Bacow and Adele Bacow spoke about the impact of messages they received from students while ill.

“We were even more enthused by reading about all of the work that you’re doing, the research that you’re doing, students who are trying so hard to stay up with classes and classmates, what you’re doing to help those around you who might be in need, and all of the creative ways that you’re finding to bring community, deepen community, and bring some levity in these difficult times,” Adele Bacow said.

— Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.