Weber arch at Northwestern University from maps.northwestern.edu
Weber arch at Northwestern University from maps.northwestern.edu

For the Wildcats who will be back at Northwestern University, campus will be like nothing they have ever experienced.

Half of the student body will not be there. Fraternities and sororities will be closed. Wildcat Welcome, Northwestern’s new student orientation, has been replaced with Wildcat Wellness, a modified quarantine period. And buildings they once knew have been turned into testing centers and isolation dorms.

In an Aug. 28 email to students, Northwestern reversed its decision to have all undergraduate students on campus, instead only inviting juniors and seniors back to live on campus and participate in in-person classes. Freshmen and sophomores will not be allowed to move into dorms or Greek housing and will have to take their classes remotely. The email said these changes will allow for more quarantine and isolation space and reduce the density of campus.

“I was absolutely convinced we could pull this off,” said University President Morton Shapiro in a Sept. 1 webinar. “Even when COVID-19 was going up in suburban Cook County and at other peer institutions, I still thought we had sufficient resources.”

Mr. Shapiro said the school initially thought it would have enough quarantine and isolation beds to accommodate all students back into residence halls. NU allotted 609 quarantine rooms for the approximately 3,000 students planning to live in on-campus housing, but late last week realized that they would fill this isolation space within 7-10 days, forcing campus to close.

Instead, only juniors and seniors will be permitted to live on campus, with some individual exceptions for freshmen and sophomores. NU pushed back its residence hall move-in date to Sept. 12, with the academic quarter beginning remotely on Sept. 16. All students had to pass an at-home COVID-19 test before they were permitted to return to campus.

Students returning to Evanston will be required to participate in Wildcat Wellness, whether they live on or off campus. Once they arrive, they will have to be tested once more and follow a more relaxed quarantine, which allows for exercise and necessary activities outside , such as grocery shopping or essential jobs, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Meals will be delivered to students living on campus.

When the Wildcat Wellness period concludes, Northwestern has implemented precautionary measures to resume in-person activity safely. Though some classes will meet face-to-face, many will be taught fully remote or on a hybrid instructional model.

In addition to social distancing, mask requirements in public spaces and frequent cleaning protocols, Northwestern has opened COVID-19 testing sites on campus. According to its website, NU will be testing students living on-campus regularly and off-campus students randomly. The Jacobs Center, at 2001 Sheridan Rd., has been converted into a testing location for asymptomatic students, and Northwestern University Health Services will test symptomatic students. Luke Figora, Senior Associate Vice President and Chief Risk and Compliance Officer, said test results would typically be available after 1-2 days.

Northwestern is working with the City of Evanston on its reopening plans and has representatives on Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s COVID-19 Task Force. Despite requests, the City did not provide the RoundTable with further information, but according to the Aug. 28 COVID-19 Task Force meeting notes, the City Health & Human Services Department will help Northwestern with restrictions if there is an outbreak at the University.

Local Businesses

Though fewer students on campus may help reduce COVID-19 transmission, it is bad news for Evanston restaurants and retailers, many of whom rely on Northwestern students for their revenue.

“For some businesses, 60-70% of their revenue comes from students,” said Roger Sosa, Executive Director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. He said that since March, around 30 businesses have closed their doors, though not all were caused by the pandemic.

For Koi Evanston, around 30% of the business comes from Northwestern, between catering events and dine in service. Since that clientele has not been available since mid-March and largely will not be available this year, Sandy Chen, Koi’s owner, has started donating meals to Connections for the Homeless and Evanston Food Drive at Evanston Township High School.

“We’re running a small team right now and trying to connect with existing clientele,” she said. “We have been here for 16 years, so that’s an advantage for us.”

Koi is currently receiving the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, but Ms. Chen is worried about the future of her restaurant and other Evanston businesses if a vaccine cannot be secured.

“We’re just taking baby steps,” she said. “Health and safety is the most important, not just our own,”

Mr. Sosa said the Chamber of Commerce is providing many Evanston businesses with person al protection equipment (PPE), including sanitizer and masks, but many are taking their own precautions to protect their customers.

Ms. Chen has added temperature checks for guests and employees, a mask requirement throughout the dining experience, except for eating and drinking, QR codes for digital menus and frequent sanitization.

Though businesses will miss out on a significant portion of revenue from Northwestern events, students living in Evanston supporting local businesses still pose a risk.  

"It definitely crosses your mind, where has this person been,” said Mr. Sosa. “It’s concerning me whether 18-21-year-old kids have all fully understood the risk and may not make the best decision and attend parties. I get that; it’s human nature. My main concern is that we don’t know what they’re doing when we’re not watching.”

“It definitely crosses your mind, where has this person been,” said Mr. Sosa. “It’s concerning me whether 18-21-year-old kids have all fully understood the risk and may not make the best decision and attend parties. I get that; it’s human nature. My main concern is that we don’t know what they’re doing when we’re not watching.”