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Core Responsibilities

Social and Physical Distancing

Increasing the physical distance between individuals can reduce transmission of the virus, and everyone returning to campus must consistently follow social distancing practices. In all shared spaces, the University will establish protocols and reminders to keep at least six feet of space between individuals. Depending on the context, social distancing may be achieved by working or learning on a remote or “blended” basis, limiting meetings and gatherings, postponing non-essential meetings and events, reducing occupant density through staggered or extended schedules and shifts or access control, removing seats from shared spaces, modifying circulation patterns and sitting areas inside and outside of buildings, providing signage, touchless alternatives, and/or physical barriers and/or partitions in public areas such as elevators, lobbies, classrooms, cafeterias, retail spaces, and densely populated areas. Additional guidance will follow to assist with infrastructure decisions, complying with policies, and identifying opportunities for improving social distancing on campus. See social and physical distancing guidelines.

Face Coverings and Face Masks

When used properly, face coverings and face masks can reduce transmission of the virus. In accordance with CDC guidelines, state and local orders, it is required that community members wear face masks in all public and shared environments on campus, and in alignment with other guidance about the use of masks on campus. The latter includes when in densely populated offices and classrooms, common areas, restrooms, elevators, or University-provided group/mass transit. Please also follow appropriate safety guidelines in laboratories with hazardous materials. All community members will receive a set of reusable face masks, with instructions on how to wear and care for their masks. Additional details will be provided on how to order re-usable and single-use masks, along with other protective equipment. See face covering and face mask guidelines.

Enhanced Cleaning Protocols and Good Personal Hygiene

Reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by cleaning and disinfection is a critical aspect of reopening our campus. All employees are required to keep desk and work surfaces empty of paper or other clutter to enable thorough cleaning. Employees should regularly wipe down their personal work areas and frequently touched objects, such as workstations/desks, keyboards, keyboard-enabled conference speakers, and telephones. Units will receive guidance on how to obtain supplies of appropriate cleaning and disinfecting products and training on how to properly clean their spaces. Additional cleaning protocols may be necessary to address heightened risks, such as following a confirmed COVID-19 case.

Across the University, community members are expected to maintain responsible personal hygiene: hands should be washed frequently and faces should be covered when sneezing or coughing (even when wearing a mask). Limiting the touching of shared surfaces reduces the spread of the virus. See cleaning protocols and personal hygiene guidelines.

Health Monitoring

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of exposure, community members are expected to regularly monitor their personal health status. Community members should not come to campus if they are showing symptoms such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Given the dimensions and locations of our campuses, the University does not currently plan to centrally track the health status or daily temperatures of employees or students. Some units with unique risks associated with their operations may establish more stringent access controls, including, but not limited to, daily temperature checks and health status questionnaires prior to reporting to work.

Individuals are expected to self-isolate if they are in non-incidental direct contact with individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or if they have fever or symptoms consistent with any respiratory infection. Staff and faculty are empowered to equitably enforce policies that support protecting the health of the broader Northwestern community. All community members are required to report if they test positive for COVID-19, if they develop symptoms consistent therewith, or are self-isolating due to suspected or known exposure to COVID-19. You can report online

If reliable testing capabilities become more accessible, testing of community members may be facilitated consistent with the latest guidance from the CDC and the IDPH. We will continually evaluate and update scientifically validated methods, training, and technology to address health concerns and manage the contact tracing for exposed community members in accordance with local, state, and federal guidelines, in coordination with local and/or state health departments.

It is possible that technology may develop in the near future that can assist with COVID-19 precautionary best practices and contact tracing, better protecting the health of our community. Such technology may be implemented by the University, but only with diligent regard to legitimate privacy expectations, concerns, and policies and transparency about the same.

See guidelines for health monitoring.


In concert with physical and operational modifications, units must develop a communication plan for providing essential information and training to community members and visitors who will occupy and visit their facilities. Any local guidance developed by schools or units should be done in consultation with the respective Return to Campus subgroups. 

Protecting the Vulnerable and Community

All of our personal situations will be unique. Some members of our community may be more vulnerable to complications of COVID-19 that increase the risk of infection or the severity of symptoms. Those who have questions or need accommodations are encouraged to contact their Human Resources representative, their Dean’s Office, the Office of Equity, The Graduate School, or their Student Affairs office.

Given the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic alteration of patterns of work, transportation, family support, child-care, travel, and other fundamental modes of life, we expect our leaders, managers, supervisors, faculty members and researchers to model flexibility and foster a community of wellness and awareness to the maximum extent possible. Flexibility includes readiness to immediately adapt to changing circumstances by implementing more restrictions and/or returning quickly to shelter-in-place. Additional resources will be provided for navigating human resources and student wellness challenges in support of our community. See guidelines for protecting the vulnerable and community.