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Self-Isolation and Safety Precautions

If you test positive for COVID-19, isolation is used to separate people infected with the virus (those who are sick with COVID-19 and those with no symptoms) from people who are not infected.

If you are exposed to COVID-19, additional safety precautions help prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms.

Learn more about both below.

Self-Isolation

When do I need to self-isolate?

Regardless of your vaccination status, you need to self-isolate if you have tested positive for COVID-19.

What do I do when I am in self-isolation?

Isolation means staying in your home or assigned on-campus isolation housing — not going to work, classes, athletic events or other social gatherings. People who are in isolation should stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others. In the home, anyone sick or infected should separate themselves from others by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and using a separate bathroom (if available).

If you are in self-isolation, you need to stay home (except to get medical care) and:

  • Monitor your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately.
  • Stay in a separate room from other household members
  • Use a separate bathroom
  • Avoid contact with other members of the household and pets.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils.

How long do I need to self-isolate?

The University has aligned with recent CDC and IDPH guidance that an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 can end isolation after Day 5, provided symptoms have resolved or are improving, and any fever has been resolved for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medication. Do not end isolation until you have received a clearance notification from the COVID-19 Response Team.

  • Day 0 is defined as the date that your first positive test was conducted. If you tested positive outside of a Northwestern testing site, you must report your positive test result.
  • Beginning on Day 5, you will receive a daily survey to evaluate your current health and isolation status.
  • By filling out the survey, you are attesting to your current health status.
    • If your symptoms have resolved or are improving, and any fever has been resolved for at least 24 hours without the aid of fever-reducing medication, you will be cleared to end isolation at midnight on the day the survey is completed.
    • If your symptoms are not improving, you must remain in isolation until you have met the above criteria or have completed 10 full days of isolation.
  • Once cleared, you may resume normal activities while observing additional safety precautions. An email with additional information and guidance will be sent to you upon clearance from isolation.

Please refer to the CDC guidance on self-isolation.

Student Isolation

Students in on-campus housing

Students in on-campus housing will self-isolate in designated space in campus facilities. A dedicated team of staff will serve as liaisons to students in these spaces, coordinating move-in and move-out as well as assisting with other needs that arise.

Students who do not live in on-campus housing

Students who do not live in on-campus housing will be required to self-isolate in their off-campus housing or another location. The University will provide health monitoring to off-campus students in isolation but will not provide housing or dining for those purposes.

Precautions after Exposure

What do I do if I’ve been exposed to COVID-19?

Following updated CDC public health guidance, those who are exposed to COVID-19 are not required to quarantine. You should take the following precautions as soon as you find out you were exposed, and continue these precautions for 10 full days after your last exposure:

  • Wear a high-quality mask or respirator (e.g. N95) any time you are around others inside your home or indoors in public.
  • Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask, including travel and public transportation settings.
  • Take a COVID-19 test at least five full days after your exposure, even if you don’t develop symptoms.
  • Watch for fever (100.4◦F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Take extra precautions if you will be around people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19.

You can test at either the Jacobs Center in Evanston or 345 E. Superior St. in Chicago. Before visiting a testing location, please confirm the current hours of operation. If you test positive through one of Northwestern’s testing sites, you do not need to contact the COVID-19 Response Team since your results will automatically route to them.

What do I do if I develop symptoms after being exposed to COVID-19?

If you begin to experience new symptoms following an exposure to COVID-19, obtain a test and self-isolate until you know the result. Symptomatic testing is available at the Jacobs Center in Evanston. Before visiting a testing location, please confirm the current hours of operation. If you test positive through one of Northwestern’s testing sites, you do not need to contact the COVID-19 Response Team since your results will automatically route to them.

What do I do if I test negative after being exposed to COVID-19?

If you test negative at least 5 full days after your last exposure to COVID-19, continue taking precautions through day 10. You can still develop COVID-19 up to 10 days after you have been exposed. If you begin to experience new symptoms, please re-test.