When a student tests positive for COVID-19, the news can be overwhelming. A cross-functional team of Northwestern staff from Residential Services, Northwestern Dining, Counseling and Psychological Services, Northwestern Medicine Student Health Service, the Dean of Students Office, Student Affairs Operations and Services, Testing and Case Management, Aramark and Compass Group works together to ensure individuals get the care they need while also protecting the safety of others on campus.
This academic year, more than 300 students have been through Quarantine and Isolation (QI) Housing, part of Northwestern’s larger COVID-19 response strategy that has enabled the University to maintain in-person activity on campus. It is a complex but carefully thought-out approach designed to slow the spread of the virus, protect our most vulnerable community members and provide as much support as possible to those who need to quarantine or isolate.
“We understand how hard it is for our students when they receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis,” said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, vice president for Student Affairs. “We remain committed to easing the anxiety of the quarantine and isolation process for our students and providing the important resources and support they need to get well. Ultimately, we want to help our students return to their classes, their community and their regular routines as quickly and safely as possible.”
What happens first?
After an on-campus student tests positive for COVID-19, the University’s case management team notifies their colleagues in QI Housing to start the intake process. A QI Housing coordinator calls the student to arrange a ride and provide guidance on preparing for the move. Although QI Housing is designed for students who live in campus residence halls, case management staff also provide support and resources for students who are quarantining or isolating off campus.
After making initial contact, a housing coordinator sends a follow-up email with additional information, including a packing list, a web link to dining options and an outline of services provided while in QI Housing, such as laundry, trash pickup, mail and meal delivery. The email also lists behavioral expectations and phone numbers for on-call coordinators.
Clean, well-stocked rooms
Rooms are assigned to minimize the number of students sharing bathrooms. Northwestern has dedicated 1835 Hinman, a semi-suite style building, to serve as QI Housing. While rooms are equipped for double occupancy, doubles have been used only a handful of times, during the initial return-to-campus surge after Winter Recess or when two students in isolation have requested to room together.
Rooms come stocked with important items to help students settle in, including fresh towels and bed linens, toiletries, bottled water, shelf-stable food and snacks. All students in QI Housing also have access to refrigerators and microwaves.
Housing staff sanitize rooms between residents. They also regularly clean and sanitize bathrooms, elevators and common spaces. When a student moves into QI Housing, Residential Services and Aramark also sanitize the student’s regular room and bathroom in their residence hall to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the community. All spaces are cleaned using electrostatic sprayers, a cleaning method that more aggressively treats surfaces and prevents transmission of viruses, including COVID-19.
A variety of dining options
A team of 25 cooks, chefs, associates and operations leaders works to provide shelf-stable breakfast boxes and snacks, while serving two hot meals each day to students in QI Housing. Staff are available from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
Although students cannot access all food options offered in dining halls, the options for QI Housing residents are designed to meet student needs and take into account dietary considerations. The menu includes options for vegetarians and vegans, those with food allergies and celiac disease and religious considerations such as Halal and Kosher. Students also can request comfort foods and specialty items from the on-campus C Store.
Northwestern Dining’s registered dietitian is available to help students navigate their choices to ensure the meals are meeting their dietary needs.
“Food can serve as a crucial factor in making students feel comfortable while they are in QI Housing,” said Stacey Brown, director of dining. “Together with our dining partner, Compass Group, our team works to ensure our students have what they need to feel cared for on their path to getting better.”
After settling in
At all times, a team of QI Housing coordinators are onsite to support students — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The QI Housing manager and resident directors serve in on-call rotations to provide additional assistance and to connect students to additional campus resources.
The QI Housing team makes daily check-in calls for health and well-being, and can coordinate priority care with Northwestern Medicine Student Health Service, Counseling and Psychological Services and other University resources, if needed. The team, which works from the first floor of the building, is prepared to respond if a student needs an extra snack or wants access to fitness equipment.
On the fifth and eighth days of isolation, asymptomatic students are eligible to take a rapid test. If they test negative, they can check out of QI Housing immediately. If they still test positive, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, they must complete the full 10-day isolation.
“Ultimately, our goal is to coordinate services that retain as much normalcy as possible while students navigate an inherently difficult time,” said Jenny Douglas, director of operations and services in Residential Services. “A team of professionals from across the University has met daily since September 2020 to discuss and respond to constantly evolving CDC guidelines and feedback from students.”
Keeping up with classes
While in QI Housing, students sometimes need additional academic guidance, and instructors work diligently to provide that support. Many faculty offer students in QI Housing access to support such as recordings of class lectures, notes from classes or opportunities to meet with a TA or instructor via Zoom.
“We recognize that moving into QI Housing can be frustrating or disappointing — particularly for students with mild symptoms who feel well enough to attend classes,” said Provost Kathleen Hagerty. “Moving into QI Housing is a measure of protection for the Northwestern community, and we refuse to let these precautions stand in the way of students’ academic progress.”
In some cases, school leaders, advisors and Office of the Provost representatives work directly with students who encounter challenges with engaging in classes.
Northwestern’s efforts to protect the community while ensuring that students who test positive for COVID-19 receive the care and support they need are the product of significant coordination across units.
“Successfully establishing and running QI Housing have been a team effort and a true demonstration of our commitment to the experiences of our students, spanning their academics, physical health and mental health,” said Luke Figora, vice president for operations. “I appreciate all of the individuals who contribute to this detailed process every day.”