Why is Northeastern moving forward with plans for in-person teaching, learning, and research for the spring 2022 term?
Our mission of educating students and conducting path-breaking research is important. This is why we’ve required vaccination, including booster shots, for all members of our community. Vaccination continues to be one of the best—if not the best—tools for managing the effects of Covid. While vaccines do not prevent all infections, the widely available Covid-19 vaccines have proven to be very effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization.
Aren’t you concerned about the massive spike in cases, particularly the highly contagious Omicron variant?
It is important to monitor all Covid trends, but in a fully vaccinated and boosted community, positive cases are no longer the best metric to influence our strategy. It’s time to shift our focus to the prevention of severe illness and hospitalization. Before vaccines became available, it was anathema to compare Covid to the flu or the common cold. Now, in a population that’s fully vaccinated and boosted, the data shows that many people who get infected will be asymptomatic or exhibit only mild symptoms.
Why not just move to remote operations during the worst of the Omicron wave and resume in-person learning and research in February?
It is now clear that Covid-19, in one form or another, will be with us for the foreseeable future. There will be new variants and future surges. At some point—and we believe the time is now—we need to focus our efforts on managing Covid effectively, not letting Covid manage us. And again, the mission of the university is important. We are educating the next generation of leaders and change-makers. Our researchers are developing solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems, including Covid. We cannot suspend these operations every time there’s a rise in cases.
Will the university change its approach to testing in the spring 2022 term?
During the fall term all students, faculty, staff, and contract employees at all U.S. campuses underwent Covid testing once per week. Our plan is to continue this approach into the spring. The purpose of Covid testing has evolved with the advent of the vaccines. Before vaccination the primary purpose of “surveillance” testing (testing everyone) was to identify those with Covid and isolate them from the rest of the campus community. In a fully vaccinated and boosted population, testing serves different purposes. Members of our community see it as a valuable benefit, providing much-needed peace of mind. Regular testing also allows university leaders to track and understand Covid trends among our population.
Given the likelihood of a steep increase in positive tests, will there be a change in the university’s approach to wellness housing for students?
Part of managing Covid in its endemic stage includes moving beyond the approach of isolating students who test positive. Our vaccination and booster requirements will allow students to isolate in their rooms—either on or off campus. Many students will be asymptomatic or exhibit only mild systems. The vaccines allow us to approach the upcoming surge like a cold or flu season.
With classes in person, how do students who test positive keep up with their work?
The NUFlex technology we developed in the summer of 2020 remains in place and will enable flexible modes of educational delivery for students. We have asked faculty members to be prepared to use this technology, and other adaptations, to ensure educational continuity for our students.
What about older faculty and staff or those who may be immunocompromised?
Throughout the pandemic we have taken extraordinary steps to keep our campuses safe. In fact, the Boston campus has always maintained less prevalence of Covid than the surrounding communities and region as a whole. With all members of the Northeastern community fully vaccinated and boosted, we believe risk of severe illness is vanishingly low. Nevertheless, faculty and staff with specific concerns are encouraged to work with Human Resources and their direct supervisor.
Will the university continue to hold events or gatherings that are not central to the academic mission?
Athletic events will now proceed with spectators in attendance. However we continue to recommend that non-essential events and gatherings be postponed, moved to virtual formats, or be moved outdoors if possible.
Will there be changes to the visitor policy or policies that govern university travel?
At this time we are planning to stick with the policies used in the fall term with respect to campus visitors and university travel. The one change is that all visitors are required to have a booster shot by January 18 or as soon as they are eligible.
Will Northeastern adhere to the CDC’s new guidance on a five-day isolation period for those who test positive?
Yes, we believe this is particularly appropriate for a population that is fully vaccinated and boosted. It will allow our students to return to in-person learning and campus activities in half the time, which has both educational and mental health benefits.
What are the new isolation procedures?
As recommended by the CDC, those who test positive will be required to isolate for a minimum of 5 days from either the onset of symptoms or the date of their positive test, whichever is earlier. Isolation can end after day 5 if they are no longer symptomatic. If symptoms remain after 5 days, isolation must continue for an additional 5 days (for a total of 10) or until the symptoms resolve, whichever occurs first. Once five days have elapsed and symptoms have subsided, individuals may return to campus. Neither a negative test nor clearance from Northeastern Wellness (or a clinician) are required.
If I test positive at home with a rapid test, am I required to report this to the university?
Someone who tests positive outside of a Northeastern University testing center, whether with an at-home rapid test or PCR test, should submit documentation of their positive test through the Wellness portal to receive a 90-day testing exemption, and avoid potential false positives. Those who test positive should not come to campus and should follow the isolation procedures outlined in the “What are the new isolation procedures?” question above.
With the anticipated increase on positive tests conducted by the university, will there be a change in how people are notified when they test positive?
Yes. Those who test positive through either the Cabot or Huntington Testing Centers will now receive an email notification, as opposed to a phone call. The email will contain guidance regarding isolation protocols (see also the “What are the new isolation procedures?” question above) and questions for contact tracing purposes.