Northwestern continues to relax COVID-19 guidelines amid rise of new omicron variants


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

With omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 on the rise, the University has released its updated COVID-19 guidelines for the summer, which includes removing the booster shot requirement and halting its positivity rate reporting.

Angeli Mittal, Design Editor

Northwestern provided updates to its COVID-19 guidelines for the summer in a Thursday email.

While COVID-19 vaccination is still required of all community members — except those granted exemptions — the University will no longer enforce its booster shot requirements. More than 95% of members have received at least one booster shot. Individuals who have completed their primary series vaccination but have not received a booster shot will no longer be required to partake in weekly testing.

Northwestern’s Symptom Tracker tool will also be phased out over the summer due to limited use.

However, free surgical masks will remain available at the entrances of most campus buildings, and individuals can request free KN95 respirator masks at the front desk of Norris University Center and in the lobby of the Chicago testing site at 345 E. Superior St.

The University has previously only recommended indoor masking when social distancing is not possible. Thursday’s summer update specifies this suggestion applies in crowded indoor spaces when transmission levels are elevated.

Due to limited demand for onsite testing, COVID-19 testing center hours will be adjusted on a weekly basis. Individuals can check the University COVID-19 website for the testing center schedules for symptomatic and asymptomatic testing.

While NU no longer provides at-home COVID-19 tests, Thursday’s email encourages individuals to seek free at-home tests from the federal government.

Students, faculty and staff who are on campus during the summer are required to report positive test results and adhere to self-isolation protocols listed on the University website. 

After June 17, the University will no longer report a COVID-19 positivity rate while continuing to output new positive cases weekly. This decision comes almost two months after Evanston made a similar decision, citing the use of hospitalization metrics as a better indicator for community health.

The University has made a similar statement, but no such metrics have been reported for NU to date.

Since the start of Spring Quarter and the rise of more infectious omicron subvariants, the University has seen an uptick in COVID-19 cases, reporting some of the highest positivity rates since the start of the pandemic. For the week of May 6, NU reported its highest rate of 9.28% when campus was open at full capacity. 

Still, the University has maintained its lack of masking and testing policies. In a May 31 Faculty Assembly meeting, University President Morton Schapiro said he supported reinstating a mask mandate, but was outvoted. 

Meanwhile, two new omicron subvariants — BA.4 and BA.5 — have been rapidly accounting for more of the COVID-19 cases nationally while evading vaccines and previous infection. 

Last week, as NU concluded the quarter and students started to leave campus, the University reported a positivity rate of 6.77% with 142 new positive cases. However, the number of tests received came out to almost 2,100 — more than half of what was received the week of May 6.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @amittal27

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