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NU promises crackdown on large gatherings

Northwestern University has a message for students who figure on going to big, loud, alcohol-fueled parties this fall: Don’t even think of it.

NU administrators on Monday's webinar.

Northwestern University has a message for students who figure on going to big, loud, alcohol-fueled parties this fall: Don’t even think of it.

Parties are a typical staple of campus life. But referencing COVID-19, Assistant Dean of Students Lucas Christian said Tuesday that “this environment is not typical.”

Christian was one of eight Northwestern administrators who took part in a webinar about health and safety on campus during the coronavirus pandemic.

While most NU classes will be held remotely in the upcoming quarter, there will be some face-to-face sessions. But as for noisy, face-to-face parties, where people sing, shout, dance, and spread droplets potentially containing the coronavirus … the University plans to get tough.

“If we have to remove someone’s ability to be on campus, we will,” Christian said. Large gatherings in other parts of the country, where dozens or perhaps even hundreds of people have not worn masks, have been blamed for coronavirus outbreaks.

Besides avoiding large gatherings, the administrators outlined other guidelines and expectations for students. Masks will be required inside all buildings, even residence halls. The only time a mask can be removed in a dorm is inside your room. Social distancing will be the rule, and classrooms have already been modified to have fewer desks, with more room between them.

The University is installing 5,000 hand sanitizing stations across campus. High touch areas, such as door handles, handrails, elevator buttons, and bathroom sinks, will be cleaned frequently.

And while there won’t be a sanitation police force following them, students will be expected to wash hands often. “We need each student to own some responsibility,” said Kevin Harris, senior director of operations.

Harris noted one positive. At a time when so many people have lost their jobs, NU will be hiring more staffers to help with cleaning and sanitizing.

College students are used to tests, but this fall they can all expect a test before ever taking a class … a coronavirus test. While the specifics are still being worked out, the goal, as it is with all of the other health and safety measures, is to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some students may actually be asked to get tested before even coming to school.

Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of the university health service, said they will have the ability to do 1,600 tests a day. There will also be contact tracing, and isolation for those who either come down with COVID-19, or have been in proximity to someone who has.

Beginning Sept. 6, and for the next two weeks, “Wildcat Wellness” will be in effect. That time frame includes a modified quarantine, similar to the “shelter in place” rules Illinois had early in the coronavirus pandemic.

Students will be asked to stay inside, but can leave for essential activities such as going to the dining hall. But don’t expect gourmet fare. Eating will be “grab and go,” rather than sit and enjoy. And not just for the first couple of weeks, but for the entire quarter. Maybe longer, depending on the virus.

Also starting Sept. 6 is move-in for on-campus undergraduate students. Carlos Gonzalez, executive director of residential services, said “these are really unique times. We are approaching the move-in process differently.”

Northwestern is trying to minimize interpersonal contact during what is normally an exciting period. Families are being urged to ship things to campus through a university-approved contractor, who will place the items in the dorm room.

And freshmen, leave some of those personal souvenirs home. “We are encouraging students to pack light,” Gonzalez said. “We need to stay nimble.”

Classes begin Sept. 16, for what the university said in an email to students will be “a Fall different than any other in our history.”

keywords » COVID-19

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh

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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