The Red Badge of COVID sounds like a Stephen Crane novel many of us had to read in high school.

But actually, this red badge, a virtual one, is what someone describing COVID-like symptoms will get on Northwestern’s new daily symptom tracker. And that red badge will prevent you from getting into any campus buildings.

Starting Monday, Northwestern will require anyone intending to go to a university building in Evanston or Chicago, to fill out a web-based symptom tracker. Developed in conjunction with Northwestern Medicine, the goal is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The tracker has a series of questions, which must be filled out daily for those intending to go to campus. Anyone identified with having COVID-19 symptoms will be “issued a virtual red badge and given instructions on how to proceed,” according to the NU website. Anyone who actually tests positive for COVID will also have their badge turn red.

Individuals who report no symptoms or have not tested positive will get a green virtual badge, which the person must be prepared to display on campus to get into a building.

NU stresses that everyone using the symptom tracker “is expected to provide truthful answers to the symptom questionnaire.” Individuals not telling the truth are “subject to disciplinary action.”

The new symptom tracker replaces the existing health monitoring form used by employees.

Northwestern is taking multiple steps to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has plagued many other colleges and universities. In a webinar on Tuesday, Luke Figora, the university’s chief compliance officer, said, “We’d be lying if we said we weren’t watching that.” But Figora also said that many of the schools struggling now “have brought everyone back without the requisite infrastructure to do that.”

Northwestern has implemented a number of COVID-related changes, including having all first and second-year students take all classes remotely, and not live in the dorms.

One of Northwestern’s COVID-fighting policies was to require all returning students to take an at-home coronavirus test, which was to be obtained from the university. However, in the webinar, Figora said only half the students who were supposed to take those tests have actually done so.

That low rate raises several questions, which “Evanston Now” has posed to NU, although we have not yet received an answer:

  • Will there be any sanctions against those students who did not take the at-home coronavirus test? Will they still be allowed to proceed with coming to Evanston?
  • Will students who did not take the at-home test simply be allowed to take the “upon arrival” test in Evanston, with no disciplinary action for not taking the at-home test?
  • Does the number of students not taking the at-home mean that number are not coming to Evanston at all, but will be taking classes remotely from their hometown?

However it turns out, NU officials are concerned about the potential spread of COVID-19 due to large, off-campus parties. Northwestern is asking community members to report such parties, and there is a link on the University’s website to do just that.

NU students commit to a code of conduct when they sign up for classes. Violating that code could lead to discipline ranging from counseling for not wearing masks, up to suspension or expulsion for hosting large parties.

Ike Ogbo, Health Director for the City of Evanston, says the City and NU are working closely together to limit the spread of COVID-19 as students come back to Evanston. He says “we are watching the situation closely, and will make adjustments and employ necessary strategies if we start seeing significant increases due to students returning to campus.”

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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