Classes have not even started yet at Northwestern University, but already, college students are partying loud, long and without masks. That was typical of the concern voiced this evening by Evanston residents, on an NU webinar for the community. About one hundred people took part.

“It’s very obvious the college age students are not taking precautions” one NU neighbor told university administrators who were on the Zoom exchange. “There are big parties, nobody is wearing masks,” said another. “Our neighbors are very concerned.”

Interim Dean of Students Mona Dugo said university officials will be out in the community in the middle of next week, letting off-campus students know “the consequences will be different this fall” for parties because of the potential spread of COVID-19. “Large social gatherings will be the focus” of University attention, she said.

Despite other universities such as North Carolina, Michigan State, and Notre Dame either temporarily suspending in-person classes or backing out of them altogether, Northwestern is still aiming for most students returning to campus, even if nearly all classes will be held remotely.

It’s still uncertain how many students will come back to Evanston, although Luke Figora, the university’s risk and compliance fficer, said he sees “high demand from undergraduates” to be on campus or in town.

Figora said NU expects about 70% occupancy in residence halls, about 3,000 students. All rooms will be singles to help minimize coronavirus exposure, unless students say they want to be in a double.

Students will also have to sign a code of conduct, giving the school more enforcement power if those students break rules on social distancing, wearing masks or organizing large parties, along with other health and safety regulations.

Undergraduate students will be given an at-home coronavirus test to take before coming to Evanston. Students will also be tested on or near their arrival date. On-campus students will also be tested “regularly” after that. Off-campus students will have random COVID tests.

The first two weeks after students arrive, starting Sept. 6, will be the “Wildcat Wellness” period. Dorm residents will be under a modified quarantine. It’s okay to leave for a walk, or to get meals to go from university dining halls, but otherwise, stay in the facility. Non-residence hall students will be asked to remain off campus during that period unless they have a class. Classes begin Sept. 16.

Figora said Northwestern has already started “mass testing” for COVID, with 400 tests given in the last day and a half. He also said three facilities have been said aside for isolation and quarantine for students who contract coronavirus or come in contact with someone who has.

Northwestern is relying heavily on an age group, college students, to act responsibly … something which has not happened in some other college towns.

Said Dave Davis, executive director of neighborhood relations for NU, “We’re in this together. We have to take this incredibly seriously.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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