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Plans for revised masking guidance and other COVID-19 updates

Dear students, faculty and staff,

As the State of Illinois prepares to relax its requirements for indoor masking at the end of this month, Northwestern will take a phased approach to lifting its indoor mask requirement.

Beginning Feb. 28, masking will be optional in University administrative spaces, research labs, public spaces, public events, athletic facilities and non-classroom communal spaces such as residence halls, libraries and the Norris University Center. Masks will remain a requirement in classrooms, lab-based classes and other spaces where instruction takes place at least through March 19, which is the last day of Winter Quarter for most students, to ensure continuity through the remaining class sessions and finals. As Chicago and Evanston lift their mandates for proof of vaccination to enter certain spaces, showing proof of vaccination such as Symptom Tracker will no longer be required to enter dining areas, gyms and other locations as previously required by those orders.

In the coming weeks, we will communicate our plan for classroom guidance and modality upon our return from Spring Break. 

Today’s masking announcement does not change the ongoing masking requirement for campus shuttles or in University health settings such as Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services and our COVID-19 testing sites. There also may be indoor campus events during which masks will be required more broadly. Individuals in leased spaces, patient-facing areas or clinical buildings should refer to local guidance regarding indoor masking policies, as they may differ from University-owned buildings. We will update the COVID-19 website on Feb. 28 to reflect the new masking guidance.

Northwestern’s guidance on masking applies broadly. After the masking requirements are lifted, instructors and managers are not permitted to require masking of others unless they are directed to do so as part of an approved medical accommodation through the Office of Equity or AccessibleNU.

Northwestern remains a highly vaccinated and boosted community that has effectively managed COVID-19 spread on campus. As the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 falls nationally and regionally, the University makes these decisions in partnership with our public health and medical advisors. 

We acknowledge that many people hold strong personal feelings about masking. As Northwestern and surrounding businesses and organizations relax their masking requirements, we encourage students, faculty and staff to continue masking if that makes them more comfortable. The University community remains committed to respecting and supporting one another’s choices. Free surgical masks remain available in the entryways of most campus buildings and free KN95 masks, designed to further reduce individual risk of contracting COVID-19 and other communicable diseases, remain available on the Evanston and Chicago campuses. Locations for KN95 mask pick-up are:

  • Evanston: Front desk of the Norris University Center (8 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to midnight on Sundays)
  • Chicago: Lobby of 345 Superior St. (9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday)

Northwestern continues to monitor the campus health environment closely, as well as the trajectory of the pandemic, and we will make adjustments to masking guidance and other mitigation strategies as needed, always in consultation with our health advisors.

Discontinuing activity level updates

Northwestern will retire the use of its color-coded Campus Activity Level framework and remove the page from the COVID-19 website on March 4. Northwestern will continue to provide information about the COVID-19 pandemic to the University community through email announcements, weekly dashboard data updates, webinars with leaders and experts, and other platforms.

Introduced in the fall of 2020 to provide a simple visual illustration of status if pandemic conditions deteriorated, color coding is no longer an effective tool, as it does not account for the complexities of COVID-19 developments. We will continue to assess and adjust our tools to accurately and transparently update the University community.

At-home tests and in-person testing

Because of the federal government’s decision to provide free at-home COVID-19 tests, the supply available to non-governmental organizations such as Northwestern will be limited for the foreseeable future. Northwestern will continue to suspend the distribution of at-home tests on-campus, except for limited programmatic needs.

In addition to performing roughly 500,000 onsite tests since the start of the pandemic, we have distributed more than 500,000 at-home tests as an additional health and safety resource. We will evaluate opportunities to resume the distribution of at-home tests when availability improves. In the meantime, free in-person testing remains available at the Jacobs Center and 345 E. Superior St. in Chicago from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

We thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate these difficult decisions and as we move forward together.

Thank you, 

Luke Figora
Vice President for Operations

Lorraine Goffe
Vice President for Human Resources and Chief Human Resource Officer

Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier
Vice President for Student Affairs