Stay healthy this winter break, and test if you’re in Boston

Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise across the United States and around the world, so this winter break, it’s as important as ever to follow public health guidelines that mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus—and adhere to the university’s testing cadence to the extent possible.

“It’s important to remember that what you do off-campus affects the health of the community at Northeastern,” says Sehyo Yune, who directs the COVID-19 wellness team at the university.

Northeastern’s testing operation will remain open throughout the break for both asymptomatic and symptomatic testing. Students staying on the university’s Boston campus or in a surrounding neighborhood for the winter term or the winter break must continue testing every three days. This includes students living off-campus in the following zip codes: 02115, 02118, 02119, 02120, 02130, 02215, and 02121.

Faculty and staff who will be within commuting distance of the Boston campus are strongly encouraged to maintain their every-four-days testing cadence over the break, as well.

“Just living in 2020 exposes you to the risk of infection, but what we know is that wearing a mask decreases that risk,” Yune says, adding that regular testing and robust contact tracing are keys to tamping down the spread of the virus once someone has been infected.

A medical doctor by training, Yune knows well the importance of effective contact tracing. Before she was hired to run the COVID-19 testing and contact tracing program at Northeastern, Yune helped build one of the first large-scale contact tracing programs in the nation while she was at Partners in Health, an effort that required her to supervise a team of more than 100 case investigators and contact tracers across 27 municipalities in Massachusetts.

Northeastern’s COVID-19 testing facilities and operations have been designed to provide a clean environment with upgraded ventilation, as well as strict protocols and a trained staff who promote a streamlined and efficient process that takes people through in a matter of minutes.

Cabot Testing Center has a staff of 200 who get tested every day. Swabs collected at the site are sent to the university’s Burlington campus to be analyzed at the state-of-the-art Life Sciences Testing Center labs. The turnaround time for results is between 12 and 24 hours on average.

Testing protocols for returning to campus after the break

All Boston-based students will be required to complete three COVID-19 tests at the start of the spring semester: The first test on their first day back to campus, the second test on their third day back, and the third test on their fifth day back. Students must quarantine until their first negative test result, and cannot attend class until they’ve received three negative test results.

The first test students schedule after Monday, Jan. 4 will prompt the start of the spring semester’s testing cadence for each individual student.

Faculty and staff on the Boston campus are required to have a test on the day of their campus return, and faculty are required to have a negative test result in the seven-day period before they return to the classroom.

What to do if you travel during the break

All Boston-based students—whether staying on campus for the break or traveling—should fill out a travel form, located on Northeastern’s Wellness Portal. The answers to the form will help the university provide detailed guidance and reminders about testing requirements to each student.

Students, faculty, and staff who are traveling should change their status to “primarily remote” in the COVID-19 Test Scheduler for the time they’re away, and change it back to “primarily in-person” as soon as they get back (here’s how to switch back and forth). Traveling students should also fill out a return form upon their return to campus, which can also be found on the Wellness Portal.

Throughout the winter session and break, everyone should continue to follow public health measures that include: wearing a mask; socializing in small groups and from a safe distance; congregating outside when possible, or in a well-ventilated room when not possible; and washing your hands with soap frequently.

Massachusetts requires that everyone traveling into the commonwealth from another state provides a negative COVID-19 test result from a test administered no earlier than 72 hours prior to arrival. Yune also recommends that students get a COVID-19 test in the state they’re visiting before they return to campus, in an effort to clamp down on any unforeseen cases at the beginning of the spring semester. This, however, is not required.

Before you go:

  •       Fill out a travel form
  •       Set your status to “primarily remote” in the test scheduler

 While you’re gone:

  •       Follow recommended public health guidelines
  •       Schedule your first COVID-19 test for the same day you plan to return to campus
  •       Prepare to quarantine upon return and until your first negative test
  •       BONUS: Get a local COVID-19 test

 The day you return:

  •       Fill out a return form
  •       Change your status to “primarily in-person” in the test scheduler
  •       Get your first of three required COVID-19 tests
  •       Begin quarantine until your first negative result

The Cabot Testing Center and the Huntington Testing Center will remain open every day throughout the break. The Cabot center will be open with adjusted hours.

Northeastern’s testing operation at the Life Sciences Testing Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, ran more than 500,000 samples during the fall semester. The seven-day average of test results turned up a 0.43 percent positive rate.

The type of test the university employs looks for three different genes from the SARS-CoV-2 genome to determine whether someone has contracted the virus. A test that monitors for three different spots within the genome of the virus gives scientists a more robust tool to monitor for potential mutations within the virus.

The university’s requirements to regularly test everyone returning to campus this fall, and the expectation of compliance with strict health and safety protocols including mask-wearing and social distancing, have contributed to maintaining a campus environment that is as safe and healthy as possible.

For media inquiries, please contact