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Keys to Northwestern coronavirus testing in Winter Quarter

From scheduling to the self-swab, what you should know
Your visit to one of the campus testing sites should take 15-30 minutes.

As campus life picks up significantly to start Winter Quarter, many more Northwestern students, faculty and staff will be on campus this term as compared to fall. In preparation, the University has spent the past several months honing several safety protocols to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Key among them is campus testing. Officials administered roughly 7,000 tests per week in Evanston and Chicago during Fall Quarter, and that number is expected to swell to as much as 20,000 per week in 2021.

As illustrated by the positive test result rate, which stayed below 1% for most of the term,  units, departments and schools across the Evanston and Chicago campuses joined forces to stand up a successful multi-pronged program that went well beyond testing. For example:

  • Facilities coordinated test sites with special attention to population density, ventilation and the flow of people traffic.
  • NUIT partnered with test vendors to launch a dashboard of results and data trends. 
  • Global Marketing and Communications created materials to get crucial information in the right hands each day as information and requirements changed over time.
  • Procurement secured vital personal protective equipment through external vendors.
  • Human Resources recruited, hired and onboarded front line staff to serve testing sites.

There are many questions about how it all works. From cadence to compliance and everything in between, here are some of the key answers.

How frequently do I need to get tested?

It depends on who you are and how much time you plan to spend on campus during Winter Quarter.

Undergraduates are required to complete Wildcat Wellness testing protocols and then test on a weekly basis thereafter, unless they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days.

Graduate and professional students who plan to come to campus daily or frequently will be tested once a week. Those visiting only rarely will be tested every other week. All students are required to submit Winter Quarter Community Interaction Plans via CAESAR.

Faculty and staff have several testing options based on their level of campus contact and preference. Through the voluntary surveillance program, they can be tested on a regular cadence. Those who will be on campus but are not part of a recurring protocol can sign-up for one of the few hundred ad hoc spots available on most testing days on a first-come, first-served basis. Some faculty and staff may also be selected for random sample testing if they are regularly working onsite. 

Are reservations required, or can I walk in?

Northwestern plans to administer approximately 20,000 tests per week in Evanston and Chicago. Given this high volume, reservations will be required for all members of the Northwestern community to ensure steady flow of traffic and shorter wait times. When you visit a testing site, you should expect the process to take 15-30 minutes.

How do I schedule a test?

To get started, create a profile with Color, the University’s new testing partner, and book your appointment. Be sure to remember your password so you can quickly activate your test kits each time.

Campus test sites are easy to find at seven locations across both campuses.


  • Jacobs Center, 2001 Sheridan Road
  • Mudd Hall, 2233 Tech Drive
  • Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road
  • Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive
  • Kresge Hall, 1880 Campus Drive
  • 1800 Sherman Ave.


  • 345 E. Superior Street

 This short video will show you what to expect at campus test locations.

How does the new testing process work?

Once you receive your test kit, you can activate it online either at a test site or at home. 

The kit contains a swab, collection tube and bag. Watch a short video to see how you self-swab the inside of your nose. Because you’ll be collecting and handling your own sample, it’s important to make sure it doesn’t get contaminated in the process. Sanitize your hands and work space. And if you perform the test at home, always return your specimen on the same day you activate the kit otherwise the test will be invalid.

When will I get my test results?

You should receive test results in two to four days from the time you return your sample.

Are compliance measures in place?

Yes. At check-in, testing staff will be able to review each visitor’s testing history and required cadence to be sure they’re on track — not over- or under-testing. Students who do not meet their requirements will receive multiple reminders, and those who remain non-compliant will be referred to the Office of Community Standards for a formal student conduct response.

By signing up for recurring test protocol, faculty and staff agree to comply with the testing cadence assigned by the University. If they fall out of compliance with their assigned cadence, they will be removed from the surveillance program and no longer be eligible for the remainder of Winter Quarter. At that point, they will be eligible to participate only in random sampling or ad hoc testing.

What do I do if I have symptoms?

All students, faculty and staff, as well as visitors, are expected to use the Symptom Tracker web app for daily health monitoring. If you begin to feel any symptoms of COVID-19, return to or remain at home and use Symptom Tracker to update your responses and badge color. Once you have badged red, a member of the COVID Response Team will contact you to discuss your symptoms and walk you through next steps. 

What if I test positive?

If your test results come back positive, a member of Northwestern’s COVID Response Team will contact you to discuss your positive test result. You will be directed to self-isolate and asked to participate in the contact tracing process to ensure other members of the community are protected.