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Updates on University Health and Safety

Dear Northwestern students, faculty and staff,  

Northwestern continues to monitor COVID-19 developments across the country. In light of national trends, we are fortunate that the data on the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois remain more positive than much of the country. The state continues to operate under Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan, and we continue to plan for the fall in alignment with the June 16 academic update. However, we are still in the early stages of the pandemic, and the situation can change rapidly. 

The health of our community is integral to our ability to have on-campus activity during the Fall academic term, and we are sharing updates on our progress thus far. Over the coming weeks, students, faculty and staff will receive more detailed information on course modality and registration, academic programming, student housing, on-campus environments and experiences, and protocols in preparation for returning to campus.

We stress again the importance of everyone’s accountability for their individual behaviors, even as we diligently put in place health protocols aligned with federal and state recommendations. Returning to campus means a steadfast commitment from each of us to safeguard our own health and that of those around us. If you do not take this seriously, you jeopardize all of Northwestern’s community. 

Daily Symptom Monitoring Requirement

  • Required form will help monitor for COVID-19 symptoms

Once you return to campus, students, faculty and staff will be expected to complete a brief symptom monitoring form each day prior to arriving on campus or attending in-person activities on campus.

Completing this form will help remind those with potential COVID-19 symptoms to stay home. The form will notify you if your answers suggest you may be displaying symptoms, in which case you will receive a response instructing you not to come to campus and providing additional steps for you to follow.

This form is being supplemented by a mobile application later this summer. More information will follow as it becomes available.

Masks, Social Distancing and Handwashing

  • We must hold one another accountable for wearing masks, social distancing and handwashing
  • Faculty and students in classrooms will be required to wear masks

Infectious disease and public health advisors continue to reiterate that the most important ways to reduce the likelihood that you contract or spread the virus are to wear face masks, practice social distancing and diligently wash your hands.

Northwestern’s guidelines require all of us – students, staff and faculty – to follow these simple precautions, as do local regulations. These individual efforts will have a material impact on our ability to keep our campus healthy so we can operate as planned in the fall. We must hold ourselves and those around us accountable to these best practices and should commit ourselves – and this community – to be a model for these behaviors.

Faculty and students will be required to wear masks in classrooms to reduce the spread of the virus. Units or departments are responsible for ordering return-to-campus kits and personal protective equipment for those faculty and staff returning to campus. Students also will receive a kit when they return that includes reusable and disposable masks, sanitizer and thermometers. 


  • Northwestern Medicine partnership will provide robust on-campus testing capabilities
  • All students must have a negative test before attending in-person activities or classes, and those in residence halls will participate in recurring testing
  • Faculty, staff and off-campus students will be randomly tested

While testing volumes continue to increase, overall testing capacity remains low and generally is approved only for those displaying symptoms or for those identified by contact tracing. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published testing recommendations for higher education.

What do these recommendations mean for us? Students, faculty and staff currently on campus who believe they have COVID-19 symptoms can get a test on campus through a partnership between Northwestern University Health Service (NUHS) and Northwestern Medicine.

In the fall, we will partner with Northwestern Medicine to deliver more robust on-campus testing with high-quality, clinically-validated tests and access to the newest resources from one of the nation’s top academic medical centers.

While details continue to evolve, we can share the following plans:

  • Any students, faculty or staff presenting COVID-19 symptoms, or who is identified through contact tracing, will be tested.
  • Those who are asymptomatic but who have concerns about exposure to COVID-19 will have access to voluntary testing.
  • All students living in the residence halls will be tested upon arrival and will quarantine until those results are received (approximately 24 hours). A follow-up test will occur about one week later. Students in the residence halls will then receive recurring testing throughout their time on campus.
  • Any student not living in residence halls but who plans to attend face-to-face classes or participate in face-to-face (in person) on-campus activities will need to have a negative test prior to beginning those activities. Those tests will be provided on campus. This will not apply to Feinberg School of Medicine students starting in July and August, who have already received information about testing from their programs.
  • Anyone testing positive will be required to self-isolate per CDC guidelines.
  • We will pursue a random, ongoing sampling testing strategy for faculty, staff and students who do not live in the residence halls.

There is still much unknown about the prevalence of asymptomatic positive individuals, and members of our community may return to campus unknowingly carrying the virus. We therefore strongly encourage all students to self-quarantine at home for the two weeks prior to coming to campus. Faculty and staff are asked to observe proper safety precautions while working remotely in anticipation of possibly returning to campus in the fall. These measures will reduce the likelihood that you are positive when you arrive on campus and will help us have a successful start to the academic year.

Contact Tracing

  • Additional contact tracing methods in the fall will complement a symptom-tracking app. 

NUHS and Environmental Health and Safety have been undertaking contact tracing efforts, in conjunction with public health agencies, since the pandemic started. Those efforts will be strengthened in the fall. For example, seating charts in classrooms, event ticketing/registration and workplace calendars all can help identify individuals who may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.

Members of our community must report any positive COVID-19 diagnosis and participate in the University’s contact tracing efforts. As we launch the symptom tracking app, there also may be opportunities to opt in to additional technology that will help with the contact tracing process. 

Quarantine and Isolation

  • Self-isolation will be required for those testing positive
  • International and domestic travel quarantines may apply, meaning Fall terms may begin remotely while students quarantine on campus

As outlined above, anyone testing positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate, and anyone identified via contact tracing will be asked to quarantine until the recommended CDC clearance timeframe has been met. Northwestern will maintain dedicated quarantine/isolation spaces for residential students. Off-campus students, faculty and staff will be required to do so at home.

Please be aware of current CDC requirements for quarantine following international travel. If you are arriving from abroad, you should plan to allow for this additional time prior to the start of your program. More guidance will follow for those who will be living in campus residence halls. 

Also, last week the City of Chicago issued a directive requiring quarantine upon arrival for individuals returning from certain states experiencing COVID-19 spikes, and we have offered guidance on this requirement. We cannot predict what similar requirements might be in place in September, so there remains the possibility the academic year will need to begin remotely with students quarantining if such an order is in place or a similar order is enacted by the City of Evanston or by the University.

Spaces, Infrastructure and Cleaning

  • We are preparing our buildings to meet social distancing requirements and incorporating enhanced cleaning protocols

As previously shared, we continue to enact changes to our facilities and protocols to best support a healthy environment. Classroom, dining, administrative and other spaces are being redesigned to apply social distancing requirements. Buildings will have signage outlining appropriate transit patterns and occupancy capacity. Classroom inflow and egress measures will be carefully prescribed, and additional time between classes will be scheduled to help manage traffic. Building systems will optimize airflow, and cleaning protocols will be enhanced, with self-hygiene stations strategically placed throughout campus.

As you know, we cannot eliminate the virus, and the campus will feel different from how it has in the past. We are working tirelessly to create the best environment we can for people to learn, work and live. It is incumbent on all of us to keep ourselves and others safe when we return to campus.

You will continue to receive updates on our health and safety initiatives as they evolve over the summer. Thank you for all you are doing to keep our community safe.



Kathleen Hagerty
Interim Provost and Professor

Craig Johnson
Senior Vice President for Business and Finance 

Luke Figora
Senior Associate Vice President
Chief Risk and Compliance Officer