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Return to Campus Plan Refresh and Process

The Winter 2021 Return to Campus Plan Refresh will build-upon the Fall 2020 Return to Campus Plans and will be updated to align with winter quarter planning tenants and the evolving pandemic response. 

The Return to Campus Plan Refresh and Process establishes an organized structure that Northwestern has used to ensure alignment of our work, workforce, and workplace in our Return to Campus plans. The process identifies key foundational elements to be addressed locally within each unit and establishes an approval workflow centrally aligning these plans with campus planning and operations. 

Winter Quarter Planning Assumptions and Tenets

Northwestern has invited first- and second-year undergraduate students to campus for Winter Quarter. They will join the students who have been on campus this Fall.  Our goal for winter is to support our students in a way that is safe and healthy for everyone and we must be prepared to welcome our community while the pandemic and our response continues to evolve.

We are asking schools/unit to plan the following scenarios for the winter quarter:

Scenario Description Assumptions Planning Tenets
A Students return as planned, and Tier 3 Mitigations are not in place
  • Winter Wildcat Wellness will be observed from January 3, 2021 to January 17, 2021.
  • The City of Evanston, within Region 10 of the State of Illinois’ Restore Illinois Plan, is in Phase 4
    • 50% density w/in office spaces w/ 6’ distancing
  • The City of Chicago, within Region 11 of the State of Illinois’ Restore Illinois Plan, is in Phase 4 and the City of Chicago’s Industry-specific Guidelines for Higher Education and Commercial Office Space remain in Phase IV, Gradually Resume.
    • 25% density w/in office spaces w/ 6’ distancing
    • 40% density w/in classrooms; maximum 50
  • Look for opportunities to increase faculty/staff presence on campus; on-campus presence in winter terms should not be lower than in the Fall
  • Prioritize those faculty/staff whose presence is necessary, especially in student-serving areas, and those who are willing and eager to return to campus
  • Continue use staggered schedules, staff rotations and flexible hours to maintain staff presence on campus while managing density limitations
B Students return as planned and Tier 3 Mitigations are in place
  • Students adhere to ‘stay at home advisory’ on campus
  • Meetings and events limited to 10 people with 6’ physical distancing (except for classes)
  • Include only those staff that cannot complete their work functions from home
  • Continue use of staggered schedules, staff rotations and flexible hours with reduced staff
  • Assume gradual build-up to Scenario A once restrictions are removed

As this pandemic continues to evolve, we will continue to monitor and respond to public health indicators and recognize the continued need for understanding, flexibility and managing density. We remain committed to flexibility in supporting the health and other personal implications (i.e. childcare) of faculty and staff. 

COVID-19 Planning Leader

To assist with this process, each school/VP leadership office will identify a COVID-19 Leader to oversee department plans within their designated school/VP unit.

This person will:

  • Collect and oversee plans within each school or unit's areas of oversight,
  • Be responsible for aligning department and school plans with the COVID-19 guidelines and best practices,
  • Align and reconcile planned activities with their dean or vice president,
  • Submit plans to the COVID-19 Workgroup for review,
  • Coordinate Return to Campus communications within their school or unit, and
  • Ensure alignment with these plans throughout the winter quarter.

Key Dates

  • November 23 & 24: Training and FAQ Dates will be provided to COVID-19 Planning leads via Zoom.
  • December 11: Return to Campus Plans are due. They should be submitted via email.

 Return to Campus Refresh Plan Process

  • The COVID-19 Planning Leader works with the individual units to refresh their Return to Campus Plan.
  • The COVID-19 Planning Leader confirms dean/VP approval and alignment with the Winter Quarter Planning tenets and COVID-19 Guidelines. 
  • The COVID-19 Leader submits the Return to Campus Plan Refresh Summary & Checklistto the COVID-19 Workgroup for each unit.
  • The Return to Campus Workgroup reviews plan for:
    • Alignment with Winter Quarter Return to Campus assumptions and planning tenets for each scenario.
    • Functions/services remaining remote.
    • Functions/services occupying physical campus space to inform building operations, access, and security.
  • The Return to Campus Workgroup communicates acknowledgement of Return to Campus Winter 2021 Plan and any additional guidance for the units identified during the review process.

The COVID-19 Leader ensures plan compliance through the Winter quarter and communicates any variances to the Return to Campus Workgroup at