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COVID-19 updates on vaccination requirements, masking and testing

Dear members of the Northwestern community,    

As confidence increases in the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine and the supply has met the demand in Illinois, Northwestern will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the 2021-22 academic year. At this time, faculty and staff will not be required to be vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines are the most important tool to help end the pandemic, and requiring students to be vaccinated will best support the health of our community and position us for in-person classroom and co-curricular activities for the Fall Term. We will provide information about how to share vaccination status in June. 

We understand that some students cannot take or are hesitant to receive the vaccine, in some cases for medical or religious reasons. Information about seeking an exception to the vaccination requirement will also be available in June. Students who have not been fully vaccinated or have not received an exception may not be able to register for fall classes.

We also understand that our international students have additional considerations. Students who are unable to secure vaccination access in their home countries will be able to request a temporary exception and be signed up to be vaccinated upon arrival to campus. Additionally, international students who receive a vaccine in their home country that is not authorized in the U.S. may be eligible for a medical exception following guidance from Northwestern Health Service.

Based on responses to vaccine clinic invitations and vaccine self-disclosures, we estimate that more than 75% of Northwestern’s students are currently fully vaccinated or in the course of vaccination. Students who still want a vaccination are encouraged to fill out this simple form, and the University’s vaccination team will contact you to provide options for receiving a vaccine. Students and employees may also email with questions about scheduling a vaccine appointment.

COVID-19 testing updates

Because we do not currently have comprehensive information about students’ vaccination records and a portion of the community remains unvaccinated, all students must continue COVID-19 testing for the remainder of the spring, regardless of vaccination status. This testing, which is supported by our public health and clinical partners, will help ensure the campus environment remains healthy as vaccinated and unvaccinated students interact in person with increasing frequency.

For the past two and a half months, we have offered Color tests and Abbott Rapid tests side-by-side, with more than 100,000 total tests over that period. After analyzing the data, we have experienced amazingly consistent performance between the two tests — in fact, we have seen more positive cases and higher positivity identified from the Abbott tests than we have the Color tests. The Abbott Rapid tests also have the benefit of giving immediate results, allowing us to separate positive cases from the community and completing contact tracing quickly.

Given the performance of the two tests, and the positive impact vaccination will have on campus, our medical experts have recommended that students start completing two Abbott Rapid tests per week, removing the need to complete a Color test. Some students have asked that we simplify the testing protocols, and we hope that completing only one type of test will make the experience easier. As previously shared, students are able to complete as many Abbott Rapid tests as they would like, and we encourage them to do so.

There will remain a limited number of Color tests available for those who want them, but students are no longer required to complete these tests. Students can ignore any automated messages from Color about tests being due.

Final decisions regarding testing requirements for the summer and fall are in review, following recent updates from the CDC and feedback from public health agencies. We will closely monitor the data as more people are vaccinated, and await initial results from a few important studies about vaccination and testing. Students receiving a COVID-19 vaccination waiver as noted above should expect to have increased testing protocols in the fall. Protocols for vaccinated students are expected to be significantly reduced and will be shared this summer as they are finalized.

Please reach out to with any testing questions.

Updates to mask requirements

Following guidance from the State, Northwestern has relaxed mask requirements outdoors on campus for those who are fully vaccinated. These individuals do not need to wear a mask outdoors unless they are participating in a large outdoor gathering or event. If you are not fully vaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask outdoors if you are engaging with other people.

Masks are still required indoors in alignment with the guidelines that have been previously issued, regardless of vaccination status. 

Capacity and gathering limitations

As you may be aware, the State of Illinois will move into a plan called A Bridge to Phase 5 on Friday, May 14. When that happens, we will adjust Northwestern’s capacity levels for indoor and outdoor spaces, particularly to support opportunities for more in-person engagement among students, faculty and staff. Please check the On-Campus Activities section of the COVID-19 website for the most current information about support and guidelines for on-campus events and gatherings.

Thank you for all that you have done, and continue to do, to maintain a healthy campus environment. We will share more updates with you as they become available.


Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor

Luke Figora
Vice President for Operations

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier
Vice President for Student Affairs