Northwestern’s mask-optional policy effective Monday amid fluctuating COVID-19 positivity rate


Daily file illustration by Angeli Mittal

Dance and a capella groups discuss whether to make masks optional within their clubs.

Angeli Mittal, Photo Editor

Northwestern’s COVID-19 positivity rate decreased slightly last week after an overall upward trend during the past four weeks.

After three weeks of mandated testing requirements for all undergraduate students at the start of the quarter, the positivity rate stayed around 2% for three weeks, averaging 2.48% with a declining number of tests taken each week. However, during Week Seven, the positivity rate rose to 4.35% — a 1.87 percentage point increase from the previous week — while the number of tests taken increased slightly to about 4,700 after the previous two week’s 4,000 each.

With 300 fewer tests taken this week compared to last, the number of new positive cases decreased to 152 from last week’s 206. The positivity rate this week was 3.42%.

Of the 152 new positive cases observed, undergraduate students accounted for 83% of positive cases with 126 this week — a proportion that increases week-to-week. Non-undergraduate students constitute 17 of the positive tests, while faculty and staff account for a total of nine cases.

The University is also suspending use of its Campus Activity Levels framework Friday because the metric fails to represent the “complexities of responding to COVID-19 developments,” according to an email sent Thursday. 

At the time of the announcement, NU reported campus activity levels as “yellow” signifying the need for modifications to normal, in-person operations as well as testing protocols for targeted populations. This change was made the second week of the quarter. Though the University mandated a third week of testing for all students, testing requirements ceased right after.

The University also wrote in the Thursday email that it had “effectively managed” COVID-19 spread on campus, allowing NU to proceed with a mask-optional policy in certain indoor shared spaces in accordance with the state and city timelines

Starting Monday, masking will be optional in most indoor spaces like research labs, athletic facilities, libraries and Norris University Center. Masking will still be required in classrooms and on campus shuttles. 

While at-home test kit distribution is still suspended on campus, NU students, faculty and staff can receive free, in-person asymptomatic testing at the Donald P. Jacobs Center 9 a.m. to 4 p.m on weekdays. Those with symptoms should use the northwest side testing entrance at the Jacobs Center to receive in-person testing 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.

Students, faculty and staff are able to receive free surgical masks at most building entrances as well as free KN95 respirator masks at the front desk of Norris during open hours or at the lobby of 345 Superior St. at NU’s Chicago campus 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @amittal27

Related Stories:

Northwestern will no longer require masking in most public spaces

COVID-19 cases rise at Northwestern for second week

The Daily Explains: Interpreting COVID-19 test results at Northwestern