Fully vaccinated people will no longer need COVID-19 tests at Northeastern

Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

In consultation with scientific experts, and consistent with current CDC guidance, Northeastern University leaders announced that all fully vaccinated members of the Northeastern University community will no longer need to be tested regularly for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, beginning June 18, 2021.

Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals on campus will still be required to be tested. Northeastern faculty and staff are also now required to report their vaccination status or plans to the university by June 30. This announcement comes as the university advances its plan for a return to normal, in-person learning and campus life.

These new testing requirements are in line with the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that fully vaccinated people can refrain from routine surveillance testing and resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing. Additionally, the university and surrounding areas have seen a sustained drop in the number of COVID-19 cases.

“We’re led by the science,” said Ken Henderson, chancellor and senior vice president for learning at Northeastern. “We’re driven by the best data, the best science available, and we’re using all the resources internal and external in order to make the best decisions for the population.”

The new testing requirements will apply for the summer of 2021 on all campuses where Northeastern requires regular COVID-19 testing. Fully vaccinated individuals who have completed the university’s vaccination attestation form do not need to take any action for this change to take effect. They also do not need to complete the Daily Wellness Check in order to come to campus anymore. To be considered fully vaccinated, a person must be two weeks from their second shot of the approved two-dose vaccinations or the single-shot option.

Anyone who is unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and goes to campus one or more times a week must continue getting tested every seven days and is still required to complete the Daily Wellness Check. However, students residing in the surrounding communities who do not go to campus do not need to be tested anymore.

It’s been a rare day in the past month that Northeastern’s testing facility sees any positive tests. In both Boston and Massachusetts more generally, weekly rates of new cases have fallen to levels not seen since March 2020. As of Monday, 56.2 percent of the Massachusetts total population (including children who are not yet eligible) was fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated people are at low risk,” says Alessandro Vespignani, Sternberg Family distinguished university professor of physics, computer science, and health sciences, and also director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern. “We know now that the vaccine is protective not just with respect to the severe disease, but also to infections, both symptomatic and asymptomatic.”

“These are the same reasons why we are now telling vaccinated people that they can walk without masks,” says Vespignani, whose team has created models projecting possible future outbreaks of COVID-19 in the U.S. for the CDC. “It’s the science that comes from the fact that we have vaccines that have been demonstrated to work very well in the clinical trials as well in multiple studies in real-world conditions.”

The university has consulted Vespignani and other health science experts both at Northeastern and externally throughout the pandemic. Henderson said that this new policy change was shaped by those conversations as well as low cases of COVID-19 locally and nationally, vaccination rates on campus and in the broader community, and current CDC guidance for vaccinated individuals.

Moving forward, any symptomatic individuals, regardless of their vaccination status, are still required to get tested immediately and only return to campus after receiving a negative test result, or after being cleared by a physician. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and symptomatic individuals should use the Daily Wellness Check to report their symptoms and set up an appointment at Northeastern’s symptomatic testing center. Anyone who is vaccinated and experiencing symptoms will be required to complete out the Daily Wellness Check and follow the same process to sign up for a test.

Anyone who requires a negative coronavirus test for travel or other university business can still schedule an ad hoc test through the testing scheduler.

Frequent surveillance testing for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, along with stringent contact tracing, quarantining, and strictly enforced public health protocols allowed Northeastern to re-open campuses last fall. As such, COVID-19 cases remained low on the Boston campus for most of the academic year. The university was also one of the first in the nation to require all students returning to its campuses for the Fall 2021 term to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The new requirement of faculty and staff to report their vaccination status or plans will provide the university with crucial data for planning a return to full-time, in-person operations in September while supporting the safety of Northeastern’s campuses and broader community, Henderson said. Employees’ vaccination status will not become part of a faculty or staff personnel file, and will be kept confidential.

The new testing protocol for the Northeastern community applies for the summer terms as the university continues to monitor case rates around the world and plan for the Fall 2021 term.

Northeastern’s coronavirus testing facilities aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The university is remaining vigilant, said Henderson. “The capability is still in place in order to scale up testing if and when required.”

The university’s testing facilities will continue to support the surrounding community, too, through its household testing initiative for faculty and staff and partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks to bring testing into schools across Massachusetts.

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