How Northeastern is staying ahead of COVID-19 developments

In the face of ever-changing information about the disease COVID-19, Northeastern is committed to keeping its communities safe and productive. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

As public health experts monitor the global spread of COVID-19, Northeastern University is developing an extensive set of contingency plans to prepare for possible disruptions, activating the staff and resources necessary to meet its institutional commitments.

To achieve these goals, the university has assembled a COVID-19 task force, with a designated Northeastern official overseeing each of the following five critical areas: learning continuity, research continuity, business continuity, campus operations, and communications. The work of these five functional teams rolls up to the larger university-wide task force.

“There’s no emergency right now,” says task force co-chair and university chancellor Ken Henderson. “But we have taken the appropriate actions to ensure that if we do have to pivot, that we have the ability to do that.”

Michael Armini, senior vice president for external affairs, also co-chairs the task force, which convenes its members every morning.

“Most of this is in the category of preparedness,” Armini says, and the frequent communication allows the team members to improve their processes in real time. “In some cases, this will require people to put aside some of their day-to-day responsibilities and work on this full time,” says Armini. “It’s that important.”

The university has already issued the following decisions:

  • Suspended all university-sponsored programs in China, South Korea, and Northern Italy
  • Communicated directly with students currently working or studying in Italy
  • Offered travel-related financial assistance to students located north of the Pisa/Florence line who choose to depart Italy

To determine additional responses as needs arise, the COVID-19 task force will continue to monitor the following areas:

Learning continuity

Northeastern is committed to preserving the learning process, and it is imperative to prevent any interruptions for students, says Armini, particularly those scheduled to graduate in Spring 2020.

To that end, Northeastern will ensure that online delivery is available for all courses in the event that on-campus attendance is impeded at any point in the future. The university is providing faculty with all necessary resources to prepare for this possibility, and preliminary resources were distributed in an email to faculty and staff on Thursday.

“All of our actions are organized around the benefit of our learning community,” says Henderson.

Research continuity

As a large research university, Northeastern maintains many state-of-the-art labs. If community members become unable to access these spaces, the university will designate essential personnel to maintain research-related processes, such as feeding animal subjects or maintaining refrigeration of sensitive materials.

Business continuity

Should on-the-ground work become a safety risk on any of Northeastern’s campuses, business will not be interrupted. The university will maintain payroll, continue payment of external vendors, and arrange remote work for affected employees as necessary.

Campus operations

“A university is like a small city,” Armini says, noting that Northeastern’s Boston campus provides such necessities as dining services, law enforcement, and snow removal. Should local governments for either of Northeastern’s residential campuses (Boston or London) issue isolation orders, the university will work to provide those living on campus with essentials, including food, water, lodging, and toiletries.


In order to guarantee that all of the above—as well as all future—information reaches those who need it, Northeastern is not only continuing, but bolstering its communication methods.

The university will issue frequent updates to faculty, staff, and students via email and post all new updates on the university’s dedicated COVID-19 website. Northeastern is also equipping call center operators and other externally facing offices with essential information to answer questions that fall outside of existing correspondence.

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