In a move signaling the next phase of COVID-19 management, Northeastern University will complete its required weekly monitoring test at the end of the month and instead move on to optional weekly testing for asymptomatic individuals.
Along with the shift, members of the Northeast community no longer need to conduct daily wellness checks before going to campus; instead, the check will only be required when you arrive for a COVID-19 test. Testing will still be required for people experiencing symptoms. The change takes effect on Monday, February 28, after which the university will also stop using its COVID-19 dashboard.
“We will continue to monitor developments and adapt our approach as needed,” university officials wrote in a statement. “From the very beginning of the pandemic, our community of faculties, staff, students and others came together to become a model for flexibility, resilience and mutual support.”
Northeastern has tested all students, faculty and staff for the COVID-19 site mid-August 2020. Ordinary “surveillance testing,” as it is known, by the entire community was an extremely effective strategy for identifying pockets of positive cases and isolating these individuals from the rest of the university population before they could infect others.
The robust test system, which included the creation of an internal test laboratory – the Life Science Test Center in Burlington, Massachusetts – made it possible for Northeastern to safely bring students, faculty, and staff back to campus for the fall semester 2020.
In the almost two years since then, however, the COVID-19 landscape has changed dramatically, both on university campuses and around the world. The United States has made “tremendous progress” in its ability to protect itself against the virus, said White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients. said Wednesday. The country “is moving towards a time when COVID is not a crisis, but something we can protect against and address,” he said.
Northeastern’s shift away from required surveillance testing is a significant step toward a new normal that includes living with the virus – one that received mixed reviews from students interviewed about the policy change.
Sam Block, a sophomore in computer science, says he supported the change and that COVID-19 has disappeared into something that is “not too much of a concern” anymore.
On the other hand, Arya Venkat, a first-year economics student, says the mandatory monitoring test gave her peace of mind in a younger population where infection does not always come with symptoms. Still, she says she is open to easing various restrictions dictated by public health guidelines.
Jared Auclairwho is an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern and runs the university’s COVID-19 testing facility, says the change is “a logical step.”
“When we move on to the next phase of the university pandemic, we do not take the test away. We just say we no longer do asymptomatic surveillance tests,” he says. “Symptomatic people should still test. And testing is optional for anyone else who feels they need to get a test.
“We’re not turning it off,” Auclair says. “We just move to a place where it is optional if you have no symptoms, and if you have symptoms, you have to be tested. And I think that is a logical step. “
Yes, there are many more tools in the pandemic toolbox than there was two years ago. Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are now widely available in the United States and many other parts of the world – and Northeastern requires that all students, faculty, and staff on its North American campuses be fully vaccinated. In addition, doctors have treatments which they can use to reduce the risk of an infection becoming fatal and the virus itself appears to mutate in a way that does so less serious (albeit more contagious).
University officials also evaluate the mask requirements for all Northeastern campuses – decisions informed by local public health guidelines. The city of Boston has not yet lifted the requirements for indoor mask. At other campus locations, including Nahant and Burlington in the Massachusetts, London, and San Francisco Bay Area, indoor mask requirements have already been abolished, and indoor mask wearing is optional at these locations.