Are NU COVID-19 policies strict? Breaking down universities’ COVID-19 responses around the country


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

The Daily reached out to college students around the country to learn other university COVID-19 protocols and compare them to Northwestern’s.

Joanna Hou, Copy Editor

The rise in omicron variant cases locally and nationwide came as many colleges and universities closed for Winter Break. Since then, schools around the country have established different guidelines for starting off their new terms. 

Northwestern students have mixed feelings about the University’s response to the surge of omicron variant cases, which involved a schoolwide quarantine period for those living on campus, mandated weekly testing for the first three weeks of Winter Quarter and a booster shot requirement. The University also implemented a surgical mask requirement for students. 

“NU’s response has been reasonable overall,” Weinberg freshman Hannah Xu said. “Wildcat Wellness for the first two weeks was necessary because there were so many COVID-19 cases. I had mixed feelings about transitioning back in-person at first, but everyone’s done well following rules in general, so I feel relatively safe.”

While some students find NU’s current policies too extreme, others wish the University would implement stricter COVID-19 policies given the high rate of cases

McCormick senior James Jia said NU isn’t doing enough to protect students. 

“At first they did a pretty good job, but the decisions about going back to campus and going back to in-person classes — it’s not based on science,” Jia said. 

The Daily spoke with college students around the U.S. to provide a broader context of the University’s COVID-19 policies. 

Yale College

Yale College, hosting a smaller student body than NU at 4,664 undergraduate students,  followed a policy similar to NU. The college pushed their in-person start date from Jan. 18 to Feb. 7 and is conducting two weeks of remote learning. Students do not need to be at Yale during those two weeks. Like NU, Yale mandated booster shots, but unlike NU, it is requiring students to get tested twice a week.

Yale President Peter Salovey said a large portion of the college’s COVID-19 protocols aim to keep the surrounding New Haven, Conn. community safe. In a Wednesday town hall, Salovey stressed that New Haven residents are more susceptible to severe forms of COVID-19 infection than students.

Yale freshman Elaine Cheng said she appreciates Yale’s commitment to students and the community.

“I was actually pretty happy with the University’s response, especially with starting us off with online classes,” Cheng said. “Some of us are obviously disappointed that we’re not going back in-person, but I feel like there are a significant amount of people who think this is a good move.” 

The University of Arkansas 

The University of Arkansas has 22,825 undergraduate students, almost three times as many as NU’s. The University did not take any time off for the pandemic, inviting students back immediately after their Winter Break. 

Freshman Ella Grace Connery said the school implemented an indoor mask mandate, but it’s loosely enforced. 

“The general student population just doesn’t like COVID protocols at all, so they just don’t feel the need to follow them,” Connery said. “So whether or not (enforcement of protocols) actually happens depends on if your professor will call you out.”

Apart from the occasional professor’s request for some students to pull up their mask, Connery said there are no repercussions for noncompliance. The school doesn’t have a vaccination or testing requirement. Arkansas also doesn’t offer consistent testing services. Instead, it’s established a five-week program to offer optional walk-in testing at the start of spring semester. Just this week, the university reported a 32.5% positivity rate among tested students.

Connery said lax requirements and anti-masking rhetoric among the student body make her worry about her personal safety. 

Xu said learning about policies like those at the University of Arkansas made her more grateful for NU. 

“I would not feel safe if this were my university,” Xu said. “I feel like regulations like masking, testing and vaccines are necessary considering how omicron is easily spread.”

San Diego State University 

San Diego State University houses 31,086 undergraduates as of 2020, almost four times as many as NU. 

SDSU senior Natalie Soriano said the University moved to a remote two-week period of instruction and implemented a booster mandate. While they do not require testing at SDSU, Soriano said PCR tests are available and easy for students to access. 

“Studying virtually just does not really work for me well, but I kind of understand why they (went remote) because we’re a very large school having students come back from all over the country and going back full-force might spread the virus,” Soriano said. “I’m kind of glad they did it but I’m hoping this is enough to get our campus back on track.” 

Jia said looser requirements make sense at larger public universities. However, he said when a school is as well-funded as NU, the standards for student health should be higher. 

“The University is charging such a high tuition fee by claiming we all were enjoying all the resources, right?” Jia said. “So if they want to do that, if they want to get the money from us, they better make sure that we can do so safely and ensure that everyone is comfortable with it.” 

Comparing NU’s policies

Like many other schools, NU implemented a booster mandate in response to the omicron variant. Its optional testing services provide quicker results than testing options at the public universities, but Yale’s twice a week testing mandate ensures their students are tested regularly. 

Wildcat Wellness’s mandatory quarantine period was stricter than other schools, who let their students stay home during their two-week virtual periods. But, NU’s in person start date on Jan. 18 was much earlier than many other universities. 

“I think NU’s policies are more reasonable. There are policies put in place, but not to an extent that would negatively impact students,” Xu said. “If we continued online for the rest of the quarter or mandated testing more, it could affect students who are already busy and struggling to stay on top of their learning.” 

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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