Administrators, experts talk Northwestern’s return to campus efforts in community discussion


Daily file photo by Binah Schatsky

The Donald P. Jacobs Center. NU announced a return-to-campus testing requirement Friday.

Jacob Fulton, Summer Editor

As Northwestern community members prepare for the fall, the University hosted a Wednesday discussion to update faculty and staff on the current state of plans for the return to in-person instruction. 

NU announced its intent for a full in-person fall at the end of June and is requiring both students and staff to submit proof of vaccination before they return. Students needed to turn in their proof of vaccination by July 11 or submit a request for an exemption based on lack of access, religious opposition or health concerns by the same date. 

Vice President for Operations Luke Figora said approximately 90 percent of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies have submitted their proof of vaccination or request for exemption. 

As of now, Figora said the University has received around 1,100 requests for exemptions, 62 percent of which are due to a lack of access to the vaccine. The deadline for faculty and staff completion has yet to pass, however, as their vaccination records and exemption requests are due Aug. 1, Figora said. 

“I’m pretty optimistic on where we stand here today,” Figora said. “Significant numbers of faculty and staff have submitted their records as well — even despite not being at the date yet — so the vaccination data numbers look good so far.”

For both staff and students, vaccination status will not be disclosed in any way by the University, and faculty and managers are prohibited from asking students and staff about their status, said Priya Harjani, interim vice president for human resources . 

Despite the high rate of vaccinations within the NU community, other factors may present risks for spreading COVID-19. Feinberg Prof. Michael Ison said though on-campus risk of exposure will be relatively low, off-campus environments, such as stores and restaurants, have the potential to expose students to COVID-19. 

However, other factors, such as the delta variant, could present different risks, Feinberg Prof. Richard D’Aquila said. The variant, which is more contagious than the original virus, is spreading across the nation — and the best way to prevent its spread and the creation of other variants is through vaccination, according to D’Aquila.

“As long as we’re in this current state where people who are fully vaccinated are not really getting sick for a prolonged period of time, we have a very good shot at limiting the evolution of variants that will become resistant to vaccines,” D’Aquila said. “But we’ve got to get everybody vaccinated.”

To continue to understand the state of COVID-19 on campus, NU will monitor local data and track vaccination efforts on campus as it prepares its guidelines for Winter and Spring Quarters.

Though it’s impossible to prepare for the exact conditions of future quarters, Figora said the University plans to continue to be flexible with its COVID-19 guidelines and reflect best health practices. 

“I can’t predict exactly what winter or next spring will look like — I hope we don’t have to worry about testing or vaccines or anything at that point,” Figora said. “But the likelihood is we’ve still got some of this stuff lingering on it. We’ll learn as we find out more.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacobnfulton

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