Northeastern plans to remain open for fully in-person classes and research activities in January, according to an email message sent to the university community from Chancellor Ken Henderson. These intentions reflect the university’s ongoing commitment to maintaining the continuity of learning and research, while keeping the community safe.
“We want to make sure that we are serving the students the best we can,” Henderson said during a conference call with university leaders. For lifelong learners and researchers alike, he said, it has been clear during the pandemic that in-person learning, working, and discovering is invaluable and unrivaled.
All members of Northeastern’s Boston campus community are required to undergo COVID-19 testing once a week. Northeastern was one of the first universities in the nation to require vaccination, and it has recently added a booster shot requirement. All students, faculty, and staff on Northeastern’s U.S. campuses are required to receive a booster shot by the first day of classes of the spring 2022 term, which begins January 18, 2022, or seven days after they become eligible. The university also has an indoor mask requirement.
Sloane Lewis, a parent of a second year student, is “looking toward spring semester with great relief, now that the booster is required in light of omicron.” She says, “Northeastern University has led the way in real time showing flexibility and determination to create a safe and intellectual environment.”
Lewis’ son spent his first year at Northeastern taking courses online, but, she says, “In-person was a far superior experience this semester. Opportunities for spontaneous conversations after class or walking across campus led to a more organic educational experience by far, with peers and professors alike.”
The university reopened classrooms to in-person learning at the start of the fall 2020 term, with COVID-19 surveillance testing, contact tracing, and quarantining procedures in place. Over that school year, Northeastern recorded a single hospitalization and about 1,800 positive tests on its Boston campus.
“We are in a dramatically better situation than in 2020,” David Madigan, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Northeastern, said in the conference call, referring to the protection provided by vaccines. The goal, he said, is to get to a point where we can relate to COVID-19 much like we relate to the annual flu season, which, he pointed out, does not close the university.
As the latest scientific data shows that vaccination—particularly with booster shots—reduces the risk of severe disease, the university’s strategy is placing less emphasis on positive case counts. Instead, Northeastern’s focus and priority is on preventing severe illness and hospitalizations.
“It is now clear that COVID-19, in various forms, will be with us for the foreseeable future,” Henderson’s email to the community states. “As we move into this endemic phase of the pandemic, our job is to continue to control Covid effectively, not let Covid control us.”
He goes on to say, “We are also very aware that a dramatic increase in Covid infections—even among a fully vaccinated population—will create inconvenience and disruptions to daily life. This is especially true for faculty and staff with children or other caregiving responsibilities. We encourage all employees to engage with Human Resources and their immediate supervisor when issues arise that require flexibility and support. We are in this together.”
Over winter break, Madigan cautions that “the percentage of positives will likely be very erratic” on Northeastern’s COVID-19 testing dashboard because fewer people will be on campus and testing during that period of time will be voluntary.
Northeastern remains poised to pivot as necessary. As it has throughout the pandemic, a university task force is monitoring developments and data worldwide, campus COVID-19 surveillance testing results, and symptomatic cases. Northeastern leaders continue to consult with public health experts, including many of the university’s own faculty. They are also developing contingency plans, with the help of faculty and students, to enable a transition to hybrid or remote learning if necessary.
Over winter break, COVID-19 testing continues to be available to the Northeastern community on the Boston campus during reduced hours.
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