Mason applauded on efforts to keep COVID-19 numbers low after testing all residential students
BY LIANNA BROWN NEWS EDITOR
In an email sent to the Mason community on Sept. 11, President Gregory Washington announced a plan to test all 3,000 residential students on Mason’s campus. He continued, explaining that Mason would also increase the testing of students living off campus and faculty members.
Virginia colleges have seen COVID-19 numbers rise on their campuses. On Sept. 2, James Madison University announced that they would move to online classes for one month due to a rapid increase in positive COVID-19 tests, specifically reporting 772 cases when they made the decision to shut down. Similarly, as of Sept. 25, Virginia Tech reported 909 positives, VCU had 239, and the UVA had 552.
On Sept. 5, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote, “Among large universities in the state, if there’s a winner so far, it’s George Mason University. The Fairfax County college was the largest in the state last year with 37,000 students. On Friday [Sept. 4.] it reported 22 total positive cases among students, faculty and staff.”
In an email to the Mason community on Sept. 11, President Washington echoed this sentiment.
President Washington explained that the numbers at Mason were so low because of the “multi-pronged approach that has included pretesting of students living in our residence halls before they arrived on campus, ongoing surveillance testing of students and employees, diagnostic testing for students who may be sick, optional robotic food delivery, management of congregate activity both on campus and in partnership with our local community, and of course the active participation of students, faculty, and staff in our Mason COVID Health, and all of us taking necessary precautions very seriously.”
Prior to the week of Sept. 13, only about 300 students were tested each week, and the students were tested at random. The low number of tests concerned some students, like junior Brooke Kemph.
“The most Mason is doing right now is daily health checks that you have to fill out every time you step foot on campus, but at the end of the day that won’t be effective for asymptomatic people, so I feel like tests are the only way to be 100 [percent] about it,” Kemph said, before Mason had announced that it would test all residential students.
During the week of Sept. 20, 2,956 tests were given to students. 18 of these tests came back positive, leading to a positive rate of about 0.6 percent.
In an email sent to the Mason community on Sept. 21, President Washington wrote, “These extraordinary numbers are cause for encouragement — not to let up on our efforts to keep COVID-19 away, but to stay the course. Relative to managing COVID-19 outbreaks, these results are the best for any large institution in Virginia and one of the best in the country, and they are proof that the decisions made up to this point were the right ones and a model for others to follow.”
As of Sept. 25, 14 students were in quarantine and 9 were in isolation, according to the Mason COVID-19 dashboard. The on-campus isolation and quarantine unit has a capacity of 141 students.
During a visit to Mason on Sept. 22, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam praised Mason for its ability to keep COVID-19 cases low. “Mason has taken safety precautions very seriously … I know that this campus community understands that safety is a shared responsibility,” Northam said, during his visit.
Since visiting campus, Northam and his wife, Pamela Northam, have tested positive for COVID-19. Associate Vice President of Communications Michael Sandler and Assistant Vice President, Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Risk Management Julie Zobel wrote in an email to the Mason community on Sept. 25 that Northam “was on campus for a short time on Tuesday, wore a mask during his entire visit and came into close contact with a very small group of individuals.” The email continued, explaining that Mason is working with the Virginia Health Department to contact those who were in close contact with Northam on Sept. 22.
As of Sept. 25, Mason reported 43 positive tests from Aug. 17 to Sept. 23.
To continue its efforts combating a COVID-19 shutdown, all Mason courses will revert to fully online learning after Thanksgiving. In an email to the Mason community on Sept. 22, Provost and Executive Vice President Mark Ginsberg explained this decision.
“Because we are concerned that transmission of the COVID-19 virus could become more likely after students return to classes at the university following the holiday, and the possibility of the confluence with seasonal flu during the late fall time period, I want to remind you that all classes and associated instructional activities — including final exams — will be conducted virtually beginning Monday, [Nov.] 30. Therefore, the last week of the semester’s class schedule, and the final examination period, will be fully virtual,” he wrote.