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Essential Faculty, Staff and Students Only on Site

Dear Colleagues,

As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold hour-by-hour, we wish to provide further guidance about who should be physically on campus during this unprecedented time. As of 5 p.m. Friday, March 20, and for the two-week period through Friday, April 3, 2020, only individuals who are essential to Northwestern’s ongoing operations can remain physically on site. Even for individuals who are considered essential, do not come to campus if you are experiencing symptoms.  

As you know from previous communications, we have been continuously monitoring the COVID-19 situation and working with medical experts to assess the risk to our community. With the recent developments in the spread of COVID-19, we now believe that it is prudent for us to implement even stricter measures as we continue to follow CDC guidance. The University remains open and its core operations will continue, albeit in a new, more virtual environment.


The shift from one academic quarter to the next necessitates planning and certain on-site activity. However, we now face the additional challenge of transitioning from on-campus to remote courses for the beginning of the Spring Quarter.

Given the substantial effort needed to ensure that we are well prepared to deliver remote coursework that is in line with our exceptional academic curricula, the next two weeks may require certain faculty and staff to be regularly or sporadically onsite. Such key work processes, for example, might include ensuring IT infrastructure is ready to support remote course delivery, preparing faculty to teach and engage with students in a virtual environment, or converting course materials. Each school, department and faculty member could have different needs to ready for this change.

It is imperative that we prepare to resume classes in two weeks, and our faculty and staff will be instrumental in making this happen.


All non-essential research will be paused on site on our campuses for the two-week period. This pause does not represent a shutdown of all research activity, as much of our research will continue off campus, including writing and planning. Activity considered essential and can continue on campus is defined as follows:

  • COVID-19 research that has the potential to mitigate the pandemic’s spread;
  • Certain medical research that, if paused, would harm its research participants;
  • Procedures to maintain critical research infrastructure. For example: animal care, irreplaceable cell lines, laboratory equipment that requires gas or cryogenic monitoring, etc.;
  • Activities that if discontinued would result in significant degradation of safety and/or the loss of time and data.

For any essential research that continues on campus, it is vital to follow proper safety protocols (e.g. personal protective equipment, not being in the lab alone, etc.), as well as additional safeguards associated with mitigating COVID-19 spread (e.g. social distancing, frequent handwashing, disinfecting shared surfaces, etc.). We will provide additional specific guidance on these and other important points soon. Laboratory researchers should initiate their pandemic-mitigation process to suspend and conclude non-essential experiments. Consistent with prior communications, researchers should have already reduced human and animal research. 

Student support

While most students will soon depart or have already departed campus for Spring Break and the beginning of Spring Quarter, some students don't have the ability to leave campus at this time. In addition, a number of our graduate and professional students call Northwestern home -- living in our graduate residence halls or locally in Evanston.

It is essential to continue to care and support those students, who will rely on us during this period of transition. While operations may be adjusted, certain core services and facilities will need to remain active with staff on site to provide ongoing services to these students, who depend on us.

Core operations

Because Northwestern remains open and much of our academic, research and student-facing work will continue, the backbone of campus will remain functional. Many administrative functions such as Facilities, Information Technology, Safety and Security, Human Resources, and Financial Operations, will require certain staff to remain on site or periodically to staff offices in order to deliver ongoing support for campus. 

Process and next steps

Deans and vice presidents have the authority to identify staff who are essential to be onsite in order to support the ongoing needs outlined above, or other elements unique to their operations. Individuals who are essential to be onsite should visit this site in order to document their status as such. Please ask that essential on-site employees complete this form so that we can manage access, if needed.

Those individuals deemed not essential to be on site should continue to follow previous guidance by working remotely and should remain off campus until April 4, 2020. For individuals who are not required to be onsite and cannot perform their regular job duties remotely, Human Resources recently announced a special curriculum for remote learning, and will continue to provide guidance on ways to stay engaged during this period as the situation evolves. All faculty and staff, graduate students and postdocs will continue to be paid as they normally would during this period of time.

This decision is not made lightly but is directly aligned with the University’s primary and overriding concern: The health and well-being of our community and the greater community beyond our campuses. During this unprecedented challenge, we want to underscore how important all individuals are to Northwestern and to society. We understand that your work and your research are deeply important to you, and the thought of slowing that is disappointing. But we must take necessary actions that will safeguard the long-term well-being of you and everyone who makes this University so extraordinary.

We will continue to closely monitor this pandemic and will offer further guidance over the next week -- and as more information becomes available. Please continue to visit Northwestern’s COVID-19 resource page frequently, which includes a range of FAQs related to the virus and how you can protect your health.

If you have additional questions, please contact the COVID-19 Resource Center at and 847-467-4111.

Thank you again for all you are doing to help flatten the coronavirus curve and protect our community.


Jonathan Holloway
Provost and Professor

Kathleen Hagerty
Interim Provost Designate

Craig Johnson
Senior Vice President for Business and Finance