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VPR Communication—Fall Quarter Guidance Update

Sept. 29, 2020

Dear colleagues,

I hope you are well as we begin the Fall Quarter under unusual circumstances. We do so, of course, with policies and protocols that allow us to work during the pandemic, and I recognize that this is a challenging time, even as we adapt to the “new normal.” I am grateful for your diligence and adherence to Northwestern’s COVID-19 Guidelines.  Your efforts have been critical to the very low numbers of positive COVID cases reported within our research community, with only a single case on the Evanston campus since our reactivation in early June. Thank you for your partnership thus far and for continuing to comply with our guidance on social distancing, face coverings, cleaning and hygiene, and health monitoring.

I also write to give a few updates and clarifications that are important as more people reoccupy campus – including new graduate students and postdoctoral trainees.

  • Lab rotations. We recognize that many departments, training programs and research groups wish to host new students in their labs. Individual groups may host rotating students, but are not required to do so. The rotating students must comply with your Pandemic Research Plan, and each laboratory should update and reload their plan into LUMEN. Refer to our previous guidance when preparing your plan.
  • Eating at work. Researchers will be permitted to eat at their desks in the research offices – provided that the desk is not located within a laboratory – and in compliance with recommended social distancing and hygiene practices.
  • COVID dashboard. Northwestern continues to update testing data, positivity rates and confirmed cases on campus. The Office for Research will soon launch a related tracker based on the same data but focused on those cases that occur within the research community. This research tracker will be hosted on the OR COVID-19 website.
  • Note that FY21 permits must be displayed by Oct. 19, as communicated last week by the director of Parking and Transportation. Until then, Northwestern will continue to enforce parking only in fire lanes and handicapped and reserved parking spots in lots and garages. Additional information about the permit application process is expected this week from Parking and Transportation. Evanston campus parking permit holders are not being charged for August and September parking fees, and monthly parking for full-time Evanston campus faculty and staff will be available at the part-time rate for October, November and December.
  • Reporting concerns. We continue to closely monitor compliance with our policies in our campus research spaces. The vast majority of our colleagues are adhering to safety protocols, but we recognize that there may be concerns that you will want to bring to our attention. We have provided various channels for doing so and have described the process that is followed after a report is made. We take all reports seriously and will follow up – including with individual PIs – to take necessary corrective action. Indeed, we have already increased monitoring in higher-traffic areas, including the west lobby in Tech and the food service area in Pancoe. Whenever possible, we appreciate you providing in a report any specific details to aid us in our enforcement.
  • Building access. I want to clarify that the Office for Research has not changed its guidance on when researchers have access to the research spaces and that changes to building access implemented on Monday, Sept. 21, do not override any preexisting access privileges. As stated in my office’s guidance this summer, laboratory shifts are to be scheduled between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. and researchers can be in the laboratories outside these hours for time-sensitive experiments. Of course, anyone who is working must comply with our COVID-19 protocols, laboratory pandemic research plans, as well as all usual safety recommendations (such as refraining from working alone in a lab).
  • As previously communicated to faculty and staff as well as graduate students, testing for COVID-19 remains an important part of Northwestern’s response to the pandemic. In addition to testing symptomatic individuals or those identified through contact tracing, the University is conducting routine surveillance testing throughout the Fall Quarter. You may review the testing protocols, goals and process details here.
  • Medical School. Feinberg-based investigators should continue to follow the medical school’s guidance posted on the Feinberg COVID-19 website.

I wish you all a safe and productive start to the Fall Quarter. I also invite you to continue sharing your feedback with my office, either directly or via your research deans or department chairs, with whom I interact regularly. Stay well and be safe. 


Milan Mrksich
Vice President for Research