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Nine campuses, nine pandemic situations

Clockwise from top left, scenes from the Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and London regional campus. Photos by Northeastern University.

Northeastern is closely monitoring the coronavirus numbers among its nine campuses around the world with a color-coded dashboard that gives daily updates on the most minute details. This allows the university to operate safely and stay up-to-date as the situation on the ground fluctuates, says Mary Ludden, vice chancellor for strategic planning and projects.

With campuses of varying shapes and sizes spread across multiple time zones and subject to a hodge-podge of government rules, it can be a real challenge to stay on top of the latest pandemic information. That prompted Northeastern’s Office of Emergency Management to create a dashboard that digs deep into the numbers and is emailed to university leadership each morning.

In addition to its nine campuses that have students and classroom instruction, the university maintains three campuses focused primarily on research: Burlington and Nahant in Massachusetts, and a security research campus in northern Virginia.

The report is different from the online dashboard for the Boston campus that provides a running look at the number of tests completed, students in quarantine, and other information.


Left, Dave Thurman, the regional chief executive officer and dean in Seattle. Right, Steve Eccles, the regional chief executive officer and dean of the Vancouver campus. While their campuses remain open, they are closely tracking rising infection rates. Photos by Adam Glanzman and Ruby Wallau/NortheasternUniversity

Instead, it categorizes COVID-19 infection rates, positive tests, and daily new cases across the five U.S. states in which Northeastern has campuses: California, Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington. It also compares the test positivity rate over the course of seven days between Northeastern and other schools in Boston. A common metric for tracking viral spread, the rate is the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that show a positive result.

“It allows us to quickly ascertain what’s occurring in the campuses coupled with the people who are on the ground,” says Ludden. She cited a recent example: Aliza Lakhani, the dean in Toronto, Northeastern’s first international campus, notified Ludden that the provincial government in Ontario had just announced an immediate 30-day shutdown to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“We have such a diverse population of professional learners, faculty, and staff, that we want to make sure we’re having a more holistic view of campus operations,” says Mary Ludden, vice chancellor for strategic planning and projects, as the university monitors virus infection rates at its nine campuses around the world. Photo courtesy of Mary Ludden

Notifications are passed on to the university’s senior leadership to explain how the evolving situation impacts Northeastern’s campuses.

“It’s very real-time because we want to make sure that our learners, faculty, and our staff are getting the information from us quickly and not waiting to see what decisions we’re making,” says Ludden. The provincial government’s announcement didn’t come as a surprise because the university had been closely monitoring the situation in Toronto all along.

Similarly, campuses in San Francisco and San Jose have had to stop in-person instruction due to new restrictions in California.

“We still are doing Hybrid NUflex and synchronous learning, so our learners have been uninterrupted, and our staff and faculty are still very engaged in different activities virtually with the students,” Ludden adds. Campuses in Boston; Charlotte; Seattle; Vancouver; and Portland, Maine, are still open and operating.

Steve Eccles, regional dean and CEO at the Vancouver campus, has been monitoring an increase in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, he says, adding that restrictions tightened in early November do not require workplaces and post-secondary education institutions to completely close, although most public universities in British Columbia are largely online. The Vancouver campus continues to be staffed, he says, for those students who wish to attend class or study on campus.

“The Northeastern Vancouver campus has a COVID-19 plan in place that protects our community, integrated with Northeastern’s overall plan and practices and approved by both the provincial and federal governments,” Eccles adds.

In Seattle, the dean, Dave Thurman, is closely tracking rising infection rates statewide as well as in the county where the campus is located. As case rates have increased, more faculty and students are choosing the “remote” option in Hybrid NUflex. 

“Those who come to campus now primarily do so just for class,” Thurman notes.

In response to increased infection rates, the U.K. re-introduced national restrictions from Nov. 5 until at least Dec. 2. While these latest restrictions did not require universities to close, the government advised, “universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible.” In response, NCH at Northeastern reverted to teaching all classes online using Hybrid NUflex.  

No matter the number of people, Northeastern requires all campuses to follow proper guidelines: wear a mask, take a daily wellness and temperature check, and stay properly distanced from others.

If a campus had to close despite those precautions, the decision to do so would not be based on a single data point, but on an amalgamation of science-based sources.

“We have such a diverse population of professional learners, faculty, and staff, that we want to make sure we’re having a more holistic view of campus operations,” says Ludden. That is made easier by the fact that, save for Boston, Northeastern’s campuses are only accessible by a swipe card, allowing the university to control who comes and who goes.

“It gives us a little bit more control and we use that to closely monitor the density in the different campuses,” Ludden adds.

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