Reopening updates: Northeastern clarifies testing guidelines, off-campus students to be tested three times a week


Deanna Schwartz

Signs instructing campus visitors to wear a mask are placed around campus.

This story will be updated continually as new information comes from the university and elsewhere that pertains to Northeastern students.

4:30 p.m. Sept. 8: Northeastern clarifies testing guidelines, off-campus students to be tested three times a week

Full-time undergraduate students, including those on co-op, living in on-campus residence halls, LightView or off-campus residences near campus will now need to be tested every three days, regardless of how often they come to campus. 

“If you are regularly interacting with Northeastern community members, on- or off-campus, you should be regularly tested,” said Senior Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Madeleine Estabrook in an email sent to students Sept. 8.

The testing requirements are different for some graduate and undergraduate students. Graduate students who come to campus two days a week or more should be tested every three days. For undergraduate students in the College of Professional Studies and graduate students who live off campus and come to campus fewer than two days a week, they should be tested any day they are on campus. 

Estabrook also reminded students that free testing is available for all students, regardless of what testing category they are in.

12 p.m. Sept. 3: Huntington Testing Center built for symptomatic testing

In addition to Northeastern’s testing facility at Cabot Physical Education Center, the university will be operating a facility on Huntington Avenue strictly for those who are symptomatic or have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Northeastern announced in a News@Northeastern article today. The Huntington Testing Center is located at 369 Huntington Ave, to the right of Marino Recreation Center.

For students to receive testing at this facility, they must be referred by a medical professional, which is provided if they indicate on the daily wellness check that they have COVID-19 symptoms or had contact with someone who tested positive.

Unlike Cabot, students will not be conducting their own nasal swabs; instead, samples will be collected in individual rooms by a medical professional.

9:45 a.m. Aug. 24: Northeastern increases student testing frequency to every three days

Northeastern will now require all students to be tested for COVID-19 every three days, the university announced in a News@Northeastern article Friday. Faculty, staff and contract workers will be tested twice a week. Workers who are on campus once a week or less will be tested when they come to campus. Any employee who works on campus between one and four days a week is required to get tested any two days they are on site. 

Previously, the plan was for students to be tested every five days. In the News@Northeastern article, Senior Vice Provost for Research David Luzzi, who heads the university’s testing operation, said that “the more frequently we test, the better we’re able to maintain control of the situation on campus, and this is a situation where we would rather test more aggressively and be safe.”

10:45 a.m. July 31: Students moving in must test negative three times, parents not allowed in residence halls during move-in

Northeastern announced new COVID-19 testing protocols that students will have to comply with upon their return to campus in a News@Northeastern article Friday. Students will be tested for COVID-19 immediately upon arrival, as previously announced.

“Even before students move into their dorm, their first stop is going to be the testing center,” the head of the university’s testing program, David Luzzi, said in the article. 

Even if that first test is negative, students will have to be tested three times in the five days following the initial test. Students need three negative results before they can participate in “campus activities,” which include attending classes.

While waiting for results of their first test, students are expected to quarantine in their rooms, with the exception of using communal bathrooms, picking up food and attending medical appointments. If the first test is negative, students can stop their strict quarantine, but still must be tested two more times before being fully cleared for campus activities. 

“You’re going to have all of those [three] tests negative before you’re able to go into certain buildings, into classrooms,” said Madeleine Estabrook, the senior vice chancellor for student affairs, according to News@Northeastern. “For students who arrive right before classes start, that means you’re going to be doing your classes remotely through NUFlex until such time as you have a third negative test.”

Only students will be allowed to enter residence halls during move-in. Parents will have to remain in the unloading area and university employees will help students move into the buildings. 

2:15 p.m. July 29: 75 to 80% of student survey respondents expect to return to campus, Chancellor says

Northeastern hosted two town halls on the topic of reopening for returning students Tuesday and Wednesday. Chancellor Kenneth Henderson and Senior Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Madeleine Estabrook shared the following new information:

Testing: Estabrook said the university is not worried about false positives, but are worried about making sure everyone is tested regularly. The current plan is to test everyone every five days, but the testing schedule is flexible and can change throughout the semester. Testing will be done seven days a week, as late as 7 p.m. on weekdays. 

Compliance: If a community member is not compliant, they will be given the chance to educate themselves before immediate consequences, Henderson said. If they continue to be noncompliant, they will be “removed from the community.” Every student is expected to look after their peers to protect the health of campus. There will be student health ambassadors and multiple campaigns to encourage safe measures.

Faculty: By the middle of August, faculty will indicate whether or not they want to teach in-person, remotely or a combination of both, Henderson said. Faculty will independently indicate to their class sections if their class is completely remote. Henderson said he expects many faculty in high-risk groups to opt for remote teaching, and also said child care could be a factor.

Technology: The new Student Hub is in the final stage of testing, with the help of around 100 students. This hub combines several applications in one place, including Canvas, email, SAIL, My Husky ChatBot, scheduling for COVID-19 testing and scheduling for classes.

Campus density: Henderson said 75 to 80 percent of survey respondents indicated that they expect to return to campus at some point this fall. 

12:45 p.m. July 27: New details on sanitation in classrooms, residence and dining halls

Northeastern announced new details on its plan to keep its campus clean in a News@Northeastern article Sunday, addressing classrooms, dining facilities and residence halls. 

Classrooms: The article states that the majority of Northeastern’s 462 classrooms are outfitted with HVAC systems, which move a combination of outside and returned air through a filtration system. Classroom HVAC systems will run for two hours before and after classes in order to fully flush the air after groups use the space.

For classrooms without HVAC, Northeastern will use ultraviolet germicidal irradiation lighting with high-efficiency particulate air filtration systems. The article explains that these units resemble portable dehumidifiers and reduce particulate counts in the air.

Cleaning crews will disinfect classrooms every night, but students and faculty will be asked to disinfect their own desk and chair when they enter a classroom and before they leave. There will be sanitizing wipes available in each classroom for this purpose, according to the article.

Classrooms that have been occupied by someone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be closed for 24 hours. After that period, they will be cleaned by an electrostatic sprayer before reopening.

Residence halls: Northeastern cleaning crews will disinfect common areas daily, and high-touch surfaces three times per day. Communal bathrooms in first-year residence halls will be cleaned three times per day and will be equipped with an air-filtration system.

Northeastern will give first-year students “welcome kits,” which come complete with sponges, cleaning spray, microfiber cloths, hand sanitizer and wipes. Students will be responsible for replenishing these supplies themselves. 

At the various leased properties where Northeastern students will live this fall, the university will verify that property managers have prepared common spaces to meet state and university guidelines.

Dining: The university previously announced that there will be no self-service at any dining facility, but there will still be more than one dining experience students can choose from. 

International Village will have a more “traditional” dining hall experience, though without self-service and with limited seating. Levine Marketplace will offer prepackaged food and limited seating. Stetson West will offer takeout only. 

The article states that Northeastern is erecting four tents that will be used to accommodate diners, though their location and plan for the colder months are not specified. The sides of the tents can be raised as weather allows, and the tents will be cleaned with the same protocols as indoor spaces, according to the article.

In all dining facilities, surfaces will be disinfected every 30 minutes, and dining halls will be shut down between meals for more thorough cleanings.

Recreation: Marino Recreation Center and Squashbusters Center will both be open this fall. Students will be able to schedule workouts through an app, a departure from the walk-in style from before the pandemic. Capacity will be capped at 40 percent and there will be 14 feet between exercise stations. Certain parts of the gyms will be closed during the day for cleaning. Locker rooms and showers will be closed. Sanitation: The university expects 300 touchless soap dispensers and 700 paper towel dispensers to be installed on campus by mid-August, with 1,000 more of each arriving on campus by mid-November.

4:10 p.m. July 24: Virus testing chief expects 6-hour turnaround

David Luzzi, the head of Northeastern’s COVID-19 testing operation, led a university-hosted Facebook Live information session Friday afternoon. 

Luzzi, who is Northeastern’s senior vice provost for research, gave further details about the testing process that all students, faculty and staff will take part in this fall. Here are the main takeaways:

● Luzzi said the testing process should take “a few minutes.” Community members will scan their university ID card, receive a unique barcode to stick on their testing vial, swab themselves, hand the vial to the health care professional and then exit the facility.

● Northeastern anticipates delivering a six-hour turnaround for test results using in-house facilities.

● Northeastern will use “the gold standard of testing”: PCR, or polymerase chain reaction testing, which uses the virus’ genome to check for the presence of the virus in a sample.

● Northeastern set up a testing facility in the Cabot Center athletic facility and has a capacity of 5,000 tests per day, and the school can “know the health status of our community on a continuous basis,” Luzzi said. He also said the university “can accelerate that testing strategy as facts on the ground require.”

● Luzzi said testing is one of three pillars in keeping campus safe this fall. The other two are face coverings and daily health checks for all students and employees. These checks will be self-conducted through an app. Each person will fill out a health questionnaire on the app, and depending on their inputs, they will either get a go-ahead to proceed to campus or be immediately connected with a health professional who can further evaluate them and possibly direct them to a specific testing center for symptomatic people.

● There are approximately 550 beds set aside for students who live on campus and test positive. Students staying in this “isolation housing” will have access to meals delivered to their room and will be able to participate in classes from their room through NUflex.

● Community members who have tested positive for the COVID-19 antibodies through serological testing will not be exempt from any of the protocols. Luzzi said the false positive rate for these tests, about 5 percent, informed policy.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this update incorrectly spelled “polymerase chain reaction.”

1:50 p.m. July 21: New details on testing, dining, mask enforcement from first July town hall

Northeastern hosted the first of a series of July town halls Tuesday, with this town hall being specifically for incoming first-year students and families. Chancellor Kenneth Henderson and Senior Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Madeleine Estabrook shared the following new information in the town hall:

Remote learning and NUflex: Northeastern has hired over 200 current students to be “instructional assistants” to assist professors with NUflex technology.

Students choosing to study remotely though NU Start or NUflex will not have their merit scholarships affected.

The Student Hub will include a new platform for affinity groups called “Communities at Northeastern,” which will be hosted on Microsoft Yammer.

State quarantine guidelines: Northeastern is working with the city and the state regarding mandatory self-quarantine guidelines for students returning to campus and expects guidance for students to come out within the next one to two weeks.

Move-in and travel: Students moving in will be allowed to use one moving hamper and bring one person with them to assist during their move-in. Estabrook advised students to pack light and ship belongings ahead of time.

Estabrook said if a student wants to take a weekend trip out of the state, they will be subject to whatever rules the state is enforcing at the time and may have to quarantine when they get back to campus. 

Testing and contact tracing: There will be no cost for anyone participating in university testing. The university has not yet committed to a specific testing schedule and is waiting on more data to advise students.

If a student tests positive, their name and information will not be shared publicly. Henderson said community members who test positive should not be concerned with informing their peers about their test results and contract tracing will do this job. Northeastern is using CDC guidelines for contact tracing, defining close contact as coming within six feet for more than 15 minutes.

Dining: Out of the three main dining halls (Stetson West Eatery, Levine Marketplace and International Village), two will most-likely be take-out only and one will have seating options, but with no self-service and fewer tables to ensure healthy distancing, Estabrook said. 

Extra precautions and distancing measures will be taken in the kitchens to keep dining workers safe.

Mask enforcement: If students do not comply with the requirement to wear a mask, there will be “processes and procedures” for consequences followed, Henderson said. He did not go into more details on what these processes and procedures will entail. Henderson expects the number of students who do not follow mask guidelines to be very low and believes students will want to comply and protect themselves and their peers. 

Henderson said students are expected to bring their own face-coverings and are encouraged to use reusable masks for sustainability.

Cleaning and air filtration: Henderson called the facilities employees the “unsung heroes” of the university and said every high-touch surface on campus will be deep cleaned nightly.

All buildings with HVAC systems will use entirely outdoor air and will not use recirculation. Air purifiers with UV filters will be used in buildings without HVAC systems.

There will be a “shared responsibility” for everyone in the university to assist with cleaning. Henderson suggested students use wipes to clean surfaces such as computers in Snell Library or chairs in classrooms after use. Estabrook likened this to the “gymnasium model,” where a gym-goer uses a wipe to clean a machine after use.

Athletics and recreation: Student athletes will continue strength and conditioning and individual workouts, but will not be in competition. 

The focus will be on “individual fitness and individual experiences” to allow for distancing. 

12:30 p.m. July 18: England canceled

Northeastern has canceled the England program for the fall, Chancellor Kenneth Henderson told enrolled students in an email Friday evening.

Henderson cited the United Kingdom’s quarantine protocols as the reason for the suspension of the program, writing that “the United Kingdom’s mandatory [14-day] quarantine requires strict protocols that, for the vast majority of England participants, simply would not have allowed for the supportive international experience that is a hallmark of The Program.” 

Students who were planning on participating in England have until July 24 to choose from three options: switching to the Boston location, remaining home and enrolling in NU Start or deferring their enrollment to the fall 2021 program. 

“Although the pandemic has limited our ability to travel, Northeastern remains a global institution, committed to providing an education that gives students a broad experience of the world. We will do our utmost to make those global opportunities available to you when travel opens again,” Henderson wrote in the email. 

Currently, the Ireland program is still planned on happening this fall. 

In a June 16 interview with The News, Henderson and Provost David Madigan said they were confident the Program in England and Ireland would be able to take place this fall.

12:00 p.m. July 13: Further COVID-19 testing details announced

Northeastern released more details of its COVID-19 testing plan in a News@Northeastern article Monday morning. The article included the following new information:

Testing requirement: All students and staff returning to campus will be required to get tested for the virus within the first couple days of arriving on campus and regularly throughout the semester. If a student refuses to be tested, they will be required to “transition to a fully online learning experience” and will not be allowed on campus.

Testing schedule: Amaura Kemmerer, associate dean for wellness, said the university is looking into setting up a testing site that runs up to 10 hours per day, seven days a week. They are considering multiple options, including mobile testing options for different locations and flexible schedules to accommodate students and employees who may not be available outside traditional working hours.

The article did not include a specific testing schedule for community members, stating that “the number of days between each test will be informed by multiple variables, including the infection rates in Boston, as well as the average number of people a single person with a viral disease such as COVID-19 can infect.”

Testing process: Students, faculty and staff will sign up for testing appointments using an online form. At the testing site, they will swab their nostrils themselves with anterior nasal swab, a process that is expected to take about five minutes. This is a less invasive test than the nasopharyngeal swab, which goes deeper into the nasal cavity. “Having participants swab their own nostrils reduces the risk of infection for healthcare providers, who won’t be in close contact with the participants. And, since it is less complex, it will also result in faster sampling.”

The swabs will be sent to Northeastern’s Life Sciences Testing Center as well as an undisclosed “third-party testing facility.” Participants will receive their results within 36 hours through a private, online portal.

Kemmerer said the university is planning to be able to test 5,000 people per day, if not more.

Testing locations: Asymptomatic testing will take place at the Cabot Physical Education Center on Huntington Avenue. Those experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 will be tested at a different, smaller facility. The location of this facility has not been disclosed. For these tests, the swabs will be administered by a clinician.

Plan for positive cases: Students who test positive for the virus will be placed in single-occupancy isolation rooms with a private bathroom and food delivery assistance. The location of the isolation housing has not yet been disclosed. “Students who become ill should coordinate with their instructors directly about their classwork,” the article states.

Kemmerer said that all community members who test positive for the virus will be given healthcare resources as well. “If it’s a positive test, they will be hearing from a member of the university’s contact tracing team,” Kemmerer said, according to News@Northeastern. “If it’s a student, there will be an offer made from a medical provider at University Health and Counseling Services. If it’s the faculty or staff, that person will be directed to follow up with their primary care or their general practitioner.”

1:15 p.m. July 9: New details on classroom recordings, campus protocol

Provost David Madigan and Chancellor Kenneth W. Henderson provided an update Thursday on Northeastern’s reopening plans. Posted to the Northeastern website and emailed to the community, it contained new information about recorded classes, testing and NUFlex. Here’s the new information:

NUFlex: Northeastern has renamed NUflex,  its system for having classes this fall split between online and in-person participation, “Hybrid NUflex.” It was previously reported that each class would be recorded with a new set of cameras and microphones in each classroom. In Thursday’s email, Madigan and Henderson wrote that all recording will be at the discretion of the instructor, and instructors must alert students that the recording is taking place. If students object, they must be allowed to opt out or the recording must be stopped.

Students will indicate their preference between online and in-person instruction through a new online interface called the Student Hub. Thursday’s email noted that the hub should launch in mid-August.

The Hybrid NUflex FAQ page says that the aim is for students who opt for in-person learning to be granted at least one in-person experience each week. 

The FAQ page also notes that the format of exams will be left up to each instructor, and tools are available to administer exams remotely.

COVID-19 testing: The News previously reported that Northeastern is preparing to have capacity to administer thousands of COVID-19 tests each day. Thursday’s update provided more specifics, saying that the capacity is thought to be between 2,500 and 5,000. It says all students, faculty and staff will be required to undergo testing “regularly,” though the update did not specify a schedule. 

Harvard University recently announced that students living on campus will undergo viral testing every three days this fall.

Campus protocols: Thursday’s announcement included new rules for those who go to campus for class or any other reason. All students must wear their Husky ID card on a lanyard. The mask requirement — which applies both indoors and outdoors — includes hallways inside residence halls. Students must check into campus buildings on the SafeZone app and complete a daily health assessment to check for COVID-19 symptoms.

12:15 p.m. June 30: Housing cancellation deadline extended to July 15

10 a.m. June 25: “Update on Fall 2020 Reopening Plans” email

Provost David Madigan and Chancellor Kenneth Henderson provided new details Thursday morning on Northeastern’s reopening plans. An email sent to the university community included the following new details:

Testing: Northeastern plans to employ “frontal nose swabs.” Baseline testing will take place at the beginning of the fall semester, and then symptomatic testing will be available throughout the term. Routine testing will be conducted, but it’s unclear how asymptomatic testing will be organized at this point. The university is not planning to use antibody testing, citing that it is not yet known if a positive result indicates immunity from future infection.

Tracing: The university has a contact tracing team trained by Johns Hopkins that will act as case workers for anyone who receives a positive diagnosis. In addition, they will also help those who test positive to understand next steps and access to care.

Calendar: The reopening team, which includes Madigan and Henderson, considered altering the academic calendar like some other universities have done. However, they decided against it since NUflex will give students the chance to individually decide when to arrive and depart.

Online portal: Henderson and Madigan had previously told The News about a new online interface called “single pane of glass.” According to Thursday’s email, it is now being called The Student Hub. It will include email, calendars, course information and COVID-related information, among other features.

Cleaning: The university is currently employing 250 cleaners to disinfect the Boston campus. Occupied buildings will have commonly-touched surfaces cleaned three to four times per 24-hour period. Cleaning kits and instructions will be provided for shared bathrooms and kitchens in residence halls.

Housing: Housing assignments will be released in late July and early August. Move-in will take place across 12 days, instead of the usual five. There will be a limit on the number of people who can help a student move in. Students will be limited to one hamper, which will be sanitized between uses.

June 17: Northeastern shares additional NUflex details on cleaning, visas, sports in Tuesday town hall

Read our coverage of the town hall here.

June 16: Q&A: Provost Madigan and Chancellor Henderson discuss reopening

Read the Q&A between The News and the administrators here.

June 11: Northeastern details NUflex program

Read about the details of NUflex here.

June 11: Northeastern shares further reopening details on dining, NUflex, sports in Thursday town hall

Read our coverage of the incoming-freshmen town hall here.

June 5: Northeastern announces ‘NUflex’ hybrid learning model for fall

Read our coverage of the university’s announcement here.

June 2: Activist groups form coalition to advocate for safe reopening

Read our article about the coalition here.

May 25: NU releases safety protocols for initial reopening of research labs, administrative offices

Read our coverage of the first reopening steps here.

May 8: Northeastern announces plan to reopen classrooms, residence halls in the fall

Read our coverage of the university’s intention to reopen here.