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Procedures for Positive Cases of COVID-19

To support Northwestern community members who test positive for COVID-19 or those who may have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, the University has established a COVID Response Team (CRT), which is comprised of registered nurses who serve as case managers and contract tracers. This collective team works with all members of the NU community and reaches out to affected individuals on a proactive basis. The CRT can also be reached directly by emailing covidcasemanagement@northwestern.edu. The COVID Response Team is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The CRT becomes aware of a community member that is COVID-19 positive in two primary ways:

  • Based on results reporting of a COVID-19 test administered at one of our NU testing sites or through an offsite referral to Northwestern Medicine
  • Based on an individual’s mandatory self-reporting of a positive diagnosis identified through other means
 

What happens if you test positive?

Students

  • A member of Northwestern’s COVID Response Team will reach out to walk you through next steps. This will include direction regarding your need to self-isolate in accordance with Northwestern and CDC requirements regardless of your vaccination status as well as guidance on how Northwestern will help support your health and welfare throughout this period.
  • If you are a student living in Northwestern residence halls, you will be moved to separate housing for the period of self-isolation. Northwestern will coordinate cleaning, food service, and other logistics for residential students in self-isolation.
  • If you are a student living off-campus, you will self-isolate at home, following suggested guidance from the CDC. Northwestern does not have quarantine/isolation facilities for off-campus students.
  • In the event that you receive notification of a positive result prior to hearing from the COVID Response Team, immediately begin to self-isolate pending further guidance. 
  • If at any point you require emergency medical attention, call 911 to access the most local emergency services.

Faculty or Staff

  • A member of Northwestern’s COVID Response Team will reach out to walk you through next steps. This will include direction regarding your need to self-isolate in accordance with Northwestern and CDC requirements as well as guidance regarding your path to return to work.
  • In the event that you receive notification of a positive result prior to hearing from the COVID Response Team, immediately begin to self-isolate pending further guidance. In addition to working with our COVID Response Team, please work directly with your primary care clinical team to notify them of your positive test and to seek direction on any follow-up care.
  • If at any point you require emergency medical attention, call 911 to access the most local emergency services.

Contact Tracing

A central aspect of the University’s COVID Response Team’s work has been to coordinate contact tracing protocols with anyone in the NU community that tests positive for COVID-19.  This work is done in close collaboration with local public health officials. 

Based on developments related to the omicron variant, contact tracing efforts may be altered following guidance from public health agencies. As more people in the region test positive for COVID-19, you may become aware of exposures in different ways – sometimes from a contact tracer, and sometimes from other sources. Regardless of whether you hear first from a Northwestern contact tracer, you should follow the guidance below if you have been exposure to COVID-19.

Unvaccinated individuals will be asked to quarantine until the recommended CDC clearance timeframe has been met. Affected unvaccinated individuals living in campus housing will be moved to a separate quarantine facility while those living off-campus will be instructed to self-quarantine, in both cases in accordance with CDC guidelines. If you are unvaccinated and are exposed to COVID-19, you should badge red using SymptomTracker and a member of the COVID Response Team will direct your next steps.

Fully vaccinated individuals or those who have tested positive for COVID -19 in the past 3 months who are exposed to COVID-19 or identified via contract tracing will not be required to quarantine. Following current CDC guidance, if you are aware that you have been exposed to someone positive with COVID-19, you should get tested five days after that exposure. If you test positive, the COVID Response Team will contact you.

Daily Monitoring while in Isolation or Quarantine

All individuals that test positive will be followed by the CRT throughout the duration of their isolation.  Those in quarantine or isolation should monitor their symptoms daily and report any new onset of symptoms to the CRT.

Northwestern's Response

Cleaning and Sanitizing

As part of our reactivation, the University has increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfection in all of our buildings.  In the event of a positive case, Northwestern will follow the cleaning guidelines provided by the CDC.

During the Covid Response Team’s interview with a positive individual, they will identify details on any locations (classroom, dorm, office, etc.) where the positive individual spent time that should be considered for special attention. The following factors may determine the extent to which special cleaning or closure of an area will be required:

  1. The last time the positive individual was present in the area;
  2. The normal cleaning frequency of the area; and
  3. Whether the location is a shared space.

In consultation with Risk Management and the Office for Research Safety, case managers will contact Facilities for cleaning, and provide a list of locations.  In the event the location must be closed, the COVID Response Team will coordinate with Facilities and the affected school/unit to ensure impacted individuals are notified.

Campus Notification

The University is confident that our shared vigilance in adherence to safety protocols, including vaccinations, social distancing, properly wearing a mask, and frequently washing hands will minimize the risks posed by the spread of Covid-19.  While there is often great interest in knowing about positive cases, Northwestern owes an obligation of privacy to anyone who has tested positive for COVID.

To ensure transparency when positive cases are identified, the following communication protocols will be supported:

  • The COVID Dashboard will be updated weekly with information about positive cases. The webpage will share the number of tests and new cases broken down by students and faculty/staff. When regularly testing is occurring on campus in the winter, the number of tests will be reported as well.
  • Units and departments will not be sending email messages every time there is a positive case on campus.
  • In certain cases, when an entire department or office space may be exposed from a contact tracing perspective, a broader communication may be issued.

FAQs

  • I have not yet received my test results.  How can I get them?  Northwestern provides direct access to results when they become available, which is generally either 30 minutes or one to three days based on the testing platform.  If you did not receive information on how to receive your results, or are otherwise unable to access them, you can send an email to patient.support@northwestern.edu or NU-COVID-Testing-Support@northwestern.edu
  • I have received a positive diagnosis and have not yet heard from the COVID Response Team.  What should I do?  Most immediately, self-isolate until you have the opportunity to speak with someone from the CRT, which you can email at covidcasemanagement@northwestern.edu. If, at any time, you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 immediately to be connected with local emergency services.
  • I have received a positive diagnosis and am asymptomatic. Do I still need to isolate?  Yes. Per CDC guidelines, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 should self-isolate for at least five full days, regardless of symptoms. If you are asymptomatic on Day 5, you will be eligible to complete a release test in an attempt to test out of your full 10-day isolation window.  
    • If you receive a negative result on Day 5, you will be fully cleared to return to campus. Even after you are cleared to return to campus, you are still required to wear a mask and socially distance through the 10th day from the initial positive test.  
    • If you receive a positive result on Day 5, you will need to complete the full 10-day isolation period before returning to campus. 
  • Where can I complete a release test? You can complete this test at the Jacobs Center using the northwest entrance on the opposite side of the main entry. Testing hours at this location are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through FridayPlease note, over-the-counter and at-home tests of any kind (including BinaxNOW) are not considered an official test result for a release test. If you are unable to complete your test-out process at the Jacobs Center, you may upload your official COVID test results from a third party testing site to this We will review your test results at our earliest availability