NU profs create their own contact tracing systems to ensure COVID-19 safety in the classroom


Daily file illustration by Emma Ruck

Northwestern professors have created their own COVID-19 contact-tracing systems amid unclear University guidelines.

Ilana Hutzler, Reporter

Some Northwestern professors have created their own contact tracing systems to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their classrooms amid unclear University guidelines.

NU’s current contact tracing protocol does not require assigned seating, making it difficult for students who test positive to identify close contacts in the classroom. Some professors have created seating charts to facilitate contact tracing if someone tests positive.

Jewish Studies Prof. Dana Mihailescu posted seating charts on Canvas for her students and asked them to sit as far apart as possible to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. She said this system works well with small classes, and her students consistently sit in the same seats.

“Whenever I come to class, I’m making sure that they are keeping to the seats that they were determined to use at the beginning of the class,” Mihailescu said.

Even though it’s not required, Mihailescu said she wants to take steps to protect her students and the community. She said faculty are encouraged to provide as much information as they can for contact tracing. While none of her students have contracted COVID-19, she said she is prepared to keep them safe and informed if someone tests positive.

Gender and Sexuality Studies Prof. Paola Zamperini uses a seating chart for their larger class, but not for their smaller 10-person class. 

“I’m hoping if any students were exposed, they would notify all of us because given the smaller classroom we’re in, all of us are always less than 6 feet away from each other,” Zamperini said.

But since students are not required to get tested regularly, Zamperini said she is unsure whether seating charts are still helpful. She questioned maintaining her policy due to the lack of updates and specific guidelines from the University. 

Many professors do not require students to sit in assigned seats. Communication sophomore Aerin Gelblum only has a seating chart in one of her four classes. 

Her political science professor, Wendy Pearlman, asked students to fill out a seating chart and space out every three seats. Gelblum said she questions whether seating charts are necessary because students usually directly alert friends and close contacts if they test positive. 

“It’s more of a social responsibility than a University responsibility,” Gelblum said. “That’s just the line of being a good friend or human to those you interact with.”

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