It’s an all-out effort to promote safety as Northeastern’s Boston campus reopens

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

On Monday when the Boston campus reopens its doors, from the outside it may look and feel just as it did before COVID-19. But as students, faculty and staff make their way to residence halls, labs and offices, they will find a university transformed from top to bottom to promote the safety of Northeastern community and surrounding neighborhoods.

Air circulation and ventilation in classrooms, labs, and residence halls have been upgraded to meet or exceed public health guidelines. Thousands of touchless hand sanitizers and towel dispensers have been installed, with more on the way.

And, an around-the-clock team of hundreds of cleaners will be spraying and scrubbing public spaces as often as three times a day—and overnight, every night, as much of Northeastern will undergo a complete hygienic scrub, down to the doorknobs.

“It’s our responsibility to make it possible for our students to continue their education and to make the campus experience safe,” says Kathy Spiegelman, vice president and chief of campus planning and development at Northeastern.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep them healthy, and we’re making it possible for them to pursue their academics and their sense of community. They’ll see the housing is different, the dining is different, going to classes is different, and testing is going to be a regular part of their lives—but I think, living through the pandemic, that’s a really good thing.”

A look around campus leading up to Monday’s restart showed a buzz of activity of as people—all wearing the protective face masks required on campus—prepared for the reopening. The sign shop churned out the red circular signs with white feet showing where to stand for proper distancing. They were being laid on the floors of practically every building.

Meanwhile, deliveries of personal protective equipment continued to arrive from all over the world to be distributed throughout campus. A variety of face coverings, including medical masks, face shields, and protective gowns that go over lab coats, are just some of the items that are coming in.

Friday alone saw university employees unload as many as 40 boxes of equipment, with many more to come.

Residence hall staff were seen preparing for students’ pending arrival. Work crews were busy swapping out couches in communal sitting areas and replacing them with single chairs spaced widely apart.

Already 200 students arrived on the Boston campus in July. They were given kits that contained hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and microfiber towels as well as directions on how to properly use them to wipe down surfaces to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

While parents will not be allowed to enter resident halls, “we want them to know campus is secure and that they feel comfortable leaving their son and daughter in the hands of Northeastern,” said Scott Peterson, a residential operations manager.

Friday’s frenetic pace of activity included moving crews delivering hundreds of tables and chairs to the four tents that will be used for open-air dining. The tents are similar to those that are being utilized by many restaurants throughout the U.S. that have reopened to outdoor dining in accordance with public health guidelines.

Desks and chairs in classrooms were being removed to meet maximum capacity requirements, while tech workers were routing colored wires and installing electronics to enhance the online learning experience.

Red and white enter and exit signs were being fastened to the doors of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex to direct foot traffic in and out of the research building.

“It’s starting to come together, but it’s a lot of hard work, and it is ongoing,” said Richard Bekerian, assistant director of transportation, warehouse and facilities management. 

Similar efforts to promote safety are being applied across Northeastern’s global system of campuses, in accordance with local laws and public health guidelines. Northeastern has campuses in London, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, the Bay Area, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Portland, Maine.

Complementing the university’s reopening efforts is an aggressive testing regimen for anyone studying, living, and working on campus.

Faculty and staff will be tested every seven days, or whenever they are on campus if their visits are less frequent than one day a week. Students will be tested the day they arrive, then on day three, followed by day five—and will be able to attend classes in person after receiving negative results on all three tests.

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