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Update for the community on coronavirus

For the latest messages, advisories and information about Coronavirus (COVID-19) for Northwestern University students, faculty, staff, parents and others, please visit Northwestern’s Coronavirus/COVID-19 updates website.

Northwestern continues to monitor the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) very closely, and the University is providing regular updates to the community. At this time, there is no increased risk to the community in Evanston or Chicago. However, we want to share the University’s latest guidance to students, faculty and staff.

In a Feb. 28 message to the Northwestern community, senior leaders provided an update, sharing additional information about Northwestern’s efforts to safeguard its campuses and the well-being of Northwestern students, faculty and staff as COVID-19 has spread to some 40 nations around the world.

The University is now restricting University travel to South Korea as well as to China. The University restricts undergraduate travel to countries deemed high-risk by the U.S. Department of State (levels 3 or 4). The State Department has classified South Korea as Level 3 now. The department is urging travelers to reconsider all travel to South Korea. The South Korean government has reported cases of the COVID-19 in the country and has upgraded its response level to “grave”, its highest response level. On February 24, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 Travel Warning ­ Avoid Non-essential Travel for South Korea.  Travelers should review and follow the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus regarding travel to South Korea.

Spring Break travel

At this time, most university-sponsored Spring Break travel to Asia, including Cambodia, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam remains on schedule, but options are being explored in the case changes would be considered prudent. No spring break programs are scheduled for Italy or South Korea. The Office of Global Safety and Security continues to monitor all University-sponsored spring break destinations and are issuing weekly updates with trip leaders / organizers / sponsors in additional to having regular phone calls with units sponsoring multiple trips.

Update Feb. 10

Northwestern continues to monitor the outbreak of coronavirus very closely, and the University is providing regular updates to the community. At this time, there is no increased risk to the community in Evanston or Chicago. However, we want to share the University’s latest guidance to students, faculty and staff.

Northwestern has no higher priority than the safety, security and well-being of all members of our community, including those who are Chinese. All of us should be free from discrimination, and Northwestern intends to uphold our values at this time of concern. If any member of the community feels they have been treated unfairly because of their country of origin or where they have traveled, please reach out to the Office of Equity to discuss your concerns. Our mission is to make Northwestern a welcoming place for all, especially in times of concern. If you have an on-going relationship with individuals who are visiting and feel comfortable expressing concern or compassion regarding events in their home country, you should feel free to do so.

As of Feb. 2, returning travelers from China began experiencing flight disruptions or cancellations due to newly enacted enhanced screening processes. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is directing all flights from China and all passengers who have traveled to China within the previous 14 days to be routed through one of the 11 U.S. airports that has established enhanced screening measures and developed quarantine facilities. See DHS press release

Northwestern is relying on — and has confidence in — public health officials at airports and other ports of entry who screen travelers arriving from at-risk areas. Students, faculty or staff who clear that process are expected to return to campus as scheduled. Individuals advised to self-quarantine by a public health official following a re-entry screening should notify the appropriate University officials (academic advisors for students and supervisors for faculty and staff).

Members of our community who have been in China or in an area where the 2019 coronavirus has been a public health challenge, or who came into close contact with a person being tested for the 2019 coronavirus and returned to the Chicago area before the enhanced screening began, should watch for any changes in health for 14 days after leaving China. If you get a fever or develop a cough or difficulty breathing during this 14-day period, avoid contact with others and seek medical attention.

Update Jan. 31

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This decision promotes further cooperation among foreign governments to prevent the wider spread of the disease and to encourage scaling up resources in locations where confirmed cases have occurred. Also on Jan. 30, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) raised the Travel Advisory for China to a Level 4: Do Not Travel. As a result, all university-sponsored student travel to China, graduate and undergraduate, is prohibited until further notice.

This respiratory illness was first identified in Wuhan in December. The cases reported thus far in the U.S. and other countries were all connected to individuals who had recently traveled from Wuhan.

None of the reported cases have any connection to Northwestern, but the University wants to update the community on this emerging global health concern. This is a rapidly evolving situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as more information becomes available. The Novel Coronavirus in China alert and the routinely updated situation summary are the best sources of information. 

Northwestern understands that news about the spread of the coronavirus may cause concern, even alarm, for many. Northwestern University Health Services and senior administrators are monitoring the situation very closely. Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our community. There is no evidence or suggestion that there is an imminent or increased risk in Evanston, Chicago or the U.S. at this time, and we have no plans to close the campus or scale-back operations. University-sponsored travel by air, sea or land to locations other than China can continue as planned.

At this time, University officials are focused on offering support to the many members of our Northwestern community who have family, friends and colleagues in China impacted by this situation. If ever there was a time for compassion and understanding of our friends and colleagues on campus, this is one of them.

Related FAQs

You can get more detailed information on the coronavirus outbreak, related health and travel issues and concerns on campus by visiting the University Health Service. To stay up-to-date with various developments, please  bookmark this website for Northwestern’s communications related to the virus. We also have developed an FAQs on the subject. The FAQs also have been translated to Chinese.

Outbound travel

The elevation of the State Department’s Travel Advisory for China to Level 4: Do Not Travel, is the highest rating available, and is normally applied to conflict and post-conflict zones or countries recovering from a large-scale natural disaster. Such a rating for China denotes the gravity of the situation, and should be taken seriously. Accordingly, as of Jan. 31, all university-sponsored student travel to China, graduate and undergraduate, is prohibited for the immediate future as Northwestern officials monitor the situation and the progress of the outbreak.

Travel prohibited

Due to the DOS Level 4 advisory, University-sponsored travel for undergraduates and graduates is now prohibited. University-sponsored University-sponsored spring break travel to China will be re-directed to other destinations. University-sponsored summer travel to China, including undergraduate study abroad programs, remains on schedule.

The University encourages all members of the Northwestern community to consider postponing travel to China at this time, given the uncertainty about how rapidly the virus is spreading, as well as the possibility of travel disruptions due to new areas in China that are under quarantine. Keep in mind that Lunar New Year holidays, between now and Feb. 3, is a busy travel period during which the virus could spread further throughout China and other countries in the area. Note that the University’s capacity to assist travelers impacted by delays or quarantine abroad is limited.

CDC guidance

If, however, travel to China is deemed necessary, the CDC offers the following guidance:

  • Consult with a doctor prior to travel if you have any health-related concerns;
  • Avoid traveling while sick (traveling with a fever from an unrelated condition could result in increased screenings and other travel issues);
  • Expect additional screenings at airports and transit hubs – allow for extra travel time;
  • Avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections;
  • Practice good hygiene through frequent handwashing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment;
  • Prevent close contact with live or dead farm or wild animals; and
  • Enroll for international travel medical insurance with GeoBlue.

Signs and symptoms

Furthermore, travelers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing and wash hands).

Signs and symptoms of this illness include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you traveled to Wuhan and feel sick, you should seek medical care right away. Students can access the University’s Health Services offices in Evanston or in Chicago. Faculty and staff members who experience symptoms should contact their primary care providers to discuss symptoms and travel history. The immediate health risk to the American public is considered low at this time. 

All travelers, domestic and international, should be aware that precautions are being instituted at major transportation hubs throughout Asia and in major U.S. cities, including O’Hare International Airport, to prevent the spread of the virus.

The common cold and influenza are prevalent at this time of year. If a student, staff or faculty member is exhibiting symptoms of illness, absent a compelling reason to believe they have been exposed to the coronavirus, there is no cause for elevated concern.

It also is important that our staff, faculty, students and visitors do not feel stigmatized. It is not appropriate for any member of the Northwestern community, unless a health care provider, to direct or suggest that any other measures be taken to safeguard one’s health or the health of others. If a member of the community has concerns regarding a symptomatic student, contact University Health Service at 847-491-8100. If employees have concerns regarding a symptomatic colleague, contact your immediate supervisor and the Office of Human Resources at

Travel registration

Community members traveling to China for essential, university-related purposes should notify the Office of Global Safety and Security of their travel plans well in advance of departure. Regardless of destination, Northwestern policy requires all undergraduate and graduate student travelers to register their travel with OGSS and to obtain international health insurance from GeoBlue. For more information on travel registration, refer to the Undergraduate Student Travel Policies or the Graduate Student Travel Policies. 

Please contact the Office of Global Safety and Security if you have any questions about current or future travel.

Questions related to heath or healthcare should be directed to medical professionals.

For Journalists: view the news release for media contacts