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Procedures for Positive Cases of COVID-19

Northwestern will generally become aware of a positive case in one of two ways:

  • Because of a positive COVID-19 test administered onsite at the Health Service or through an offsite referral to Northwestern Medicine;
  • Through a self-reporting of a positive diagnosis, as required by Northwestern policy. 

What happens to the individual who is positive?

The individual will be required to self-isolate in accordance with Northwestern and CDC requirements.


  • If the individual is an undergraduate student living in Northwestern residence halls, the student will be moved to specialized housing for the period of self-isolation. Northwestern will coordinate cleaning, food service, and other logistics for residential students in self-isolation.
  • If the individual is a student living off-campus, the student will self-isolate at home, following suggested guidance from the CDC. Northwestern does not have isolation facilities for off-campus students, nor does Northwestern have facilities for students who live with others who may be COVID positive.

Faculty or Staff

If the individual is faculty or staff, they should self-isolate at home or another location following the same CDC guidance, and should arrange for medical follow-up with their personal medical providers.

Northwestern's Response

Contact Tracing

Upon notice of a positive case, the University will follow its contact tracing process


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 contact tracing interview with a positive individual, the contact tracer will ask the individual to provide their office location, where they attended classes, meetings or gatherings on University campus.  The following factors may determine the extent that 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 shared space.

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

Campus Notification

Positive cases will happen regularly – there should be no expectation that Northwestern will have no COVID cases that impact its community. 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. It is important to remember – if you are identified as a close contact to someone who has tested positive for COVID, you will be contacted directly by a contact tracer. If you are not a close contact, and you have been following general safety practices like wearing masks and social distancing, your risk is low.  

In order to create transparency when positive cases are identified, the following communication protocols will be followed:

  • The COVID Case Tracker will be updated at least weekly with information about positive cases. The webpage will share the number of new cases broken down by students and faculty/staff. When regularly testing is occurring on campus in the fall, the number of tests will be reported as well.
  • If a positive case can be attributed with a single building (such as a permanent office, or a residence hall), that location will be noted on the website. Other incidental building exposures will not be reported (such as passing through another campus building).
  • Because Northwestern is identifying positive cases and the primary building impacted, if any, and performing contact tracing to identified anyone individually at risk, 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.