Skip to main content

Important Fall Term health update for faculty and staff

Dear faculty and staff,

We are excited to welcome more faculty and staff back to campus in the coming weeks as we prepare for the next academic year, when Northwestern will join universities across the country in resuming in-person classes and research, and gathering again for meetings and events.

As we make these preparations, Northwestern continues to actively monitor the global and local trajectory of the pandemic, particularly developments related to the delta variant. We regularly consult with our medical and public health partners, who reiterate that vaccines remain the essential tool for overcoming the pandemic.

Today, we introduce a new formal exception request process for our faculty and staff vaccination requirement. You can find more information about the process and consequences for failure to comply later in this message.

The Northwestern community is demonstrating very strong compliance with the vaccine requirement, far exceeding the general vaccination rates in the Chicago area. As of Aug. 18:

  • More than 93% of undergraduate students and 88% of graduate and professional students have provided proof of vaccination.
  • Only about 3% of students have requested an exception to the vaccination requirement, and the majority of those are due to access issues for international students. These students will be vaccinated upon arrival to campus.
  • 94% of required faculty and 88% of required staff have reported their vaccination.

If you are vaccinated but have not yet attested to your vaccination status, please do so immediately. We continue to push as close to 100% vaccination as we can, and we are confident that campus will remain a healthy environment given the precautions we have in place. More information is available from our recent and upcoming Return to Campus Discussion Series events.

During the coming months, we will track changes to state and local public health guidelines and intently monitor the dynamics on campus, adjusting our plans where needed. We also will closely watch for any broader changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as recommendations about vaccination boosters, and will communicate those to the campus community as appropriate.

We remain committed to the return to campus plans schools and units developed for Fall and provide updates on the following:

  • Vaccination requirement exceptions and consequences for non-compliance
  • Testing requirements and options
  • Symptom tracking
  • Contact tracing and quarantine and isolation
  • Masking
  • Manager expectations

Vaccination Exception Requests

Any faculty or staff member who seeks an exception to the University’s vaccination requirement due to a personal health condition or sincerely held religious belief is now invited to submit a formal request. Faculty or staff members who remain unvaccinated at this time due to concerns associated with the vaccines’ Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) status can request an exception using the “other” exception category. Please note, however, it is anticipated that at least one of the vaccines will receive full FDA approval in the coming weeks, after which time, the EUA exception will no longer be available. From that point forward, all faculty and staff members must either be vaccinated or subject to a valid exception as outlined above. If you have questions about completing the attestation or exception process, email

We ask that exception requests be submitted by Sept. 1. These requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. When on campus, individuals with an approved exception are required to test twice weekly, continue masking in all shared indoor settings and complete the Symptom Tracker daily. We will strictly enforce vaccination and testing requirements for students, faculty and staff. 

Any staff member who is unvaccinated without an approved exception, or who receives an exception but does not comply with the COVID-19 safety protocols outlined above, will be quickly escalated internally within their school or unit leadership for appropriate action. If a staff member remains non-compliant with these requirements, they will be transitioned to an unpaid leave of absence and, ultimately, terminated in alignment with the Staff Handbook.

For all faculty, continued non-compliance will lead to disciplinary actions, up to and including temporary suspension and termination of employment. The sanctioning process will follow the steps outlined in the Faculty Handbook.

Testing for Faculty and Staff

While Northwestern does not require regular testing for vaccinated faculty and staff at this time, we strongly encourage vaccinated faculty and staff to take advantage of the free testing resources, including rapid and at-home tests, as frequently as possible.

We will continue to closely monitor activity on campus and will adjust if we determine that broader surveillance testing is warranted. 

Symptom Tracker

Unvaccinated faculty, staff and students are required to use the Symptom Tracker any day they visit campus. While most members of the University community are not required to use the Symptom Tracker every day, schools and units may wish to deploy it locally given its new features, and faculty and staff should be ready to display their badge if asked. 

Northwestern has updated the Symptom Tracker application to show:

  • A green badge for anyone who is vaccinated, or who is unvaccinated and has received a negative test at Northwestern in the past 72 hours
  • A yellow badge for anyone who is unvaccinated and has not received a negative test at Northwestern in the past 72 hours
  • A red badge for individuals who are currently experiencing symptoms or who are in quarantine or isolation

 If you have any COVID-19 symptoms—even if you are vaccinated—it remains essential to report them using the Symptom Tracker by “badging red.” Northwestern’s COVID Response Team will coordinate a symptomatic test for you and provide guidance on your next steps. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, do not get tested at the Jacobs Center (Evanston) or 345 E. Superior St. (Chicago).

Faculty and staff should not plan to access campus unless they have a “green” Symptom Tracker status.

Contact Tracing Protocols

Northwestern has updated its protocols for contact tracing and quarantine and self-isolation to align with recent changes from the CDC. If you are vaccinated and identified as a close contact, the CDC now recommends testing.

Vaccinated close contacts need to email Case Management will determine next steps, including arranging for a PCR test three-to-five days after the exposure. Additionally, vaccinated exposures will need to mask indoors for 14 days after their initial exposure.

Unvaccinated close contacts need to email and quarantine for 14 days. Case Management will determine next steps, including arranging for a PCR test three-to-five days after the exposure

Anyone who is positive, regardless of vaccination status, must self-isolate for 10 days.


Northwestern will continue following CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health guidance regarding indoor masking. Until those recommendations change, masks are required indoors, with exceptions for:

  • Private offices
  • Actively eating or drinking
  • Actively teaching or lecturing, if vaccinated and able to maintain social distance

In the future, there may be certain situations in which it is deemed acceptable to remove masks in indoor settings, and the masking section of the University’s COVID-19 website will be updated with this information. Even if the mask mandate is lifted for vaccinated individuals, the combination of masking and vaccination leaves very little risk of transmission.

Other Reminders

We ask that managers and supervisors allow for flexibility while campus begins to repopulate. Some faculty and staff haven’t been on campus in 18 months, and the combination of commuting, childcare and other personal challenges will be difficult for some. Please show compassion and support for your colleagues as we all work together to readjust to the workplace.

This has been a busy summer for everyone, and we hope you have found outlets to rest and recharge for the new academic year. Thank you for all you continue to do to keep Northwestern a safe and healthy place for our community.



Luke Figora
Vice President for Operations

Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor

Priya Harjani
Interim Vice President for Human Resources