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Northeastern will require indoor mask-wearing starting in September

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

To safeguard the health and wellness of the Northeastern community, the university will require students, faculty, staff, visitors, and vendors to wear masks indoors—regardless of vaccination status—for the start of the fall semester, officials announced Wednesday.

The requirement goes into effect for students when they move into university housing, and on Monday, Sept. 6 for faculty, staff and off-campus students. 

The updated requirement follows other measures the university is taking to maintain a healthy learning and research environment in the fall—a time when its campus populations swell with students traveling from around the world, and as full-capacity, in-person classes kick off on the campuses where local public health guidelines allow it.

Northeastern announced this summer that all students, faculty, and staff based in the United States will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the fall semester, and that everyone will undergo COVID-19 testing once a week starting in the first week of September.

In his message announcing the new mask requirement, Ken Henderson, chancellor and senior vice president for learning wrote about the expectation to see some positive cases even among the fully vaccinated once testing on campus resumes. 

“Fortunately, the data show that most of these cases will be mild and that the vaccines offer very effective protection against severe illness. It is important to remember that positive tests among a vaccinated population are not the same as positive tests among an unvaccinated population, which we monitored closely last year.”

Combined, the updated mask-wearing, testing, and vaccine requirements will “protect community health as we transition to a new academic year with increased density on our campuses,” said Henderson, in his message to the university community on Wednesday.

“We will monitor health and safety conditions continuously, and revise these protocols as the fall term progresses,” Henderson said. Masks will not be required outdoors or when someone is alone in an office or in their own room in university housing. 

Vaccination remains “one of the most effective tools” to protect one’s health and prevent disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gulten Tural is the mother of two Northeastern students and may have a third child attending the university. “Masks are just one step to prevent getting the disease when you’re indoors,” she says. Her husband is a pediatrician in Massachusetts “and we see lots of children who come in testing positive” for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“I personally support the university’s mask decision,” Tural adds.

Randy Rubin, who graduated from Northeastern in 1987, has a daughter who is majoring in cultural anthropology and sociology. He says he feels more comfortable with the mask mandate in place. “I’m glad Northeastern is requiring vaccinations, and the masks make sense as an extra precaution,” says Rubin.

Requiring masks again didn’t come as a total surprise to Alison Yang, a fifth-year business marketing major. “A lot of my friends and I thought it was inevitable that the mask mandate would be coming back, regardless of whether the CDC announced it or not.” Yang says she knows people who have been vaccinated and still got infected, “so wearing a mask is definitely something I would want to do.”

An already-masked Chinedu Okorafor, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in chemical engineering, adds: “As we see in the news around the country, you can still spread the virus even though you have a vaccination. We need to consider each other’s health and to stay safe.”

To comply with Northeastern’s vaccine requirements, all students, faculty, and staff on its U.S. campuses must complete the vaccination verification form to confirm their vaccination status, request a religious or medical exemption, or indicate they need help accessing the vaccine. The verification form can be found on the university’s online wellness portal, under the link that reads “Vaccine Verification.”

Vaccine documentation is due by Sunday, Aug. 15 for students and Wednesday, Sept. 8 for faculty and staff.

Northeastern’s reopening strategy for the previous academic year—and its approach throughout the entire pandemic—has been to protect the health of the community on a number of fronts through tools including robust surveillance testing and adherence to public health guidelines. The updated mask mandate is the latest health measure against a virus that shifts and mutates, itself.

“We are starting the fall term with a cautious approach, recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over but that we have powerful tools—the vaccine, masks, and testing—to protect our community,” Henderson said.

Northeastern community members can review the COVID-19 FAQs for more details on the updated protocols or contact with questions. 

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