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COVID-19 response updates for January return to campus

Message Highlights:

Dear Northwestern community,

As the pandemic has shifted and evolved over the past several weeks, we have been in frequent contact with public health officials and our own infectious disease experts to determine the best path forward for the Northwestern community. Safeguarding the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff remains our top priority. We also must prioritize the needs of our community and the broader public health approaches for navigating the pandemic.

With our return from Winter Recess just around the corner, we want to provide some important reminders and updates. As always, the situation can change quickly, and we will provide updates as we have them. 

Wildcat Wellness and Testing

We continue to plan for a two-week Wildcat Wellness period that runs from Jan. 1 through 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 18. All graduate and undergraduate students who are registered for in-person classes are required to take one in-person, on-campus COVID-19 test each week of Wildcat Wellness. All students taking in-person classes must arrive early enough to complete their first-week testing requirement—no later than Friday, Jan. 7. Students who display symptoms of COVID-19 after arrival should follow guidelines for symptomatic testing.

Additionally, all students should take two at-home COVID-19 tests if possible: one 36 hours before travelling to campus and a second at-home test immediately after arriving on campus. These tests complement the in-person testing requirement and do not serve as a replacement for the required tests in our testing sites. Please refer to the Dec. 21 message to students for additional details on testing and expectations for returning to campus.

Campus will remain open during Wildcat Wellness, and we will continue to require community members to wear masks, regardless of vaccine status, in all indoor campus environments. Faculty and staff whose duties require them to be on campus should work in person. Managers may offer additional flexibility for remote work if it meets operational needs during this time.

Resumption of In-Person Activities

We will evaluate the University community’s health landscape after the first week of Wildcat Wellness as students return to campus and complete their first in-person test in order to inform our approach moving forward.

Northwestern has made adjustments to keep the Henry Crown Sport Pavilion open to students, faculty and staff by reservation during Wildcat Wellness. Depending on campus health, we may explore additional opportunities in the second week for certain activities to resume subject to additional safety precautions. Activities that are tied to upcoming key dates and have an essential in-person component will be prioritized.

We are reviewing new mitigation orders from the City of Evanston to determine how this guidance will affect Northwestern. At present, there are no plans to extend Wildcat Wellness beyond Jan. 18, and we are committed to resuming in-person learning as soon as possible.

New CDC Guidance

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a recommendation for a shorter isolation period for asymptomatic individuals who test positive for COVID-19.

For individuals who test positive for COVID-19 but are without symptoms, Northwestern will allow for an early release from isolation upon a negative, onsite rapid antigen test on the fifth day after the positive test result or later.

For those who are exposed to someone with COVID-19:

  • If you have been vaccinated or received a booster within the past six months (two months for Johnson & Johnson), quarantine will not be required. You will continue to mask on campus and get tested at the Jacobs Center or 345 E. Superior St. (Chicago) on the fifth day following the exposure.
  • If you are unvaccinated, or have not been vaccinated or boosted within the past six months (two months for J&J), a five-day quarantine will be required. You will test on the fifth day following the exposure and be released with a negative result (and continue masking on campus).

These protocols will apply to Northwestern students, faculty and staff. We will monitor this approach and adjust as necessary. These protocols will be updated soon on our COVID-19 website, as well as any other subsequent changes to our approach.

Contact Tracing

Consistent with the advice from our public health partners, current guidance indicates contact tracing efforts are not impactful during periods of high, community-based spread. As we heavily test returning students and limit in-person activity, and institute ongoing mitigation efforts, contact tracing efforts will be suspended during Wildcat Wellness.

You may learn of positive cases through a number of different mechanisms—directly from health departments, from colleagues or friends, or through word of mouth. If you believe that you have been directly exposed to someone who is positive with COVID-19, you should follow the quarantine guidance outlined above, regardless of whether you have heard directly from a University contact tracer. 

The State of Illinois is adjusting some of its contact tracing protocols, and we will continue to work closely with the public health departments to ensure consistency at Northwestern.

Report Any Positive Cases 

We ask all students, faculty and staff who test positive for COVID-19 at any time, including over Winter Recess, to submit their test results by clicking on “Report COVID-19 Test Results” through the link provided and following the prompts. Reporting positive cases helps us monitor and appropriately respond to spikes in positive cases, and implement ongoing testing or quarantine requirements appropriately. 

Booster Reminder 

Subject to limited exceptions, all students, as well as faculty and staff who work on campus, must obtain a COVID-19 vaccination booster by Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, or 30 days after becoming eligible, whichever is later. Please attest to your booster status and upload your documentation online. Additional details on Northwestern’s booster requirement can be found online.

We thank you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this complicated pandemic and appreciate the steps each of you is taking to protect your health and the health of those around you. We plan to collect more information and provide a community update via webinar soon. Look for details to come next week.


Luke Figora
Vice President for Operations

Kathleen Hagerty
Provost and Professor

Julie Payne-Kirchmeier
Vice President for Student Affairs