President Washington announces plans to increase testing and start in-house surveillance testing analysis in spring semester


With only days left in the fall semester, Mason has continued to have one of the lowest COVID-19 case numbers of any university in Virginia. Mason recently announced new developments in testing plans for the spring semester, including an increase in testing and plans for Mason faculty members to lead testing operations.

Currently, Mason has 73 active cases with 49 being students and 24 faculty. Since Aug. 17, Mason has only had 284 reported cases. According to President Gregory Washington, Mason plans to test all 1,300 residential students who remain on campus following Thanksgiving break. But, as of Dec. 8, only 296 students had been tested between Nov. 29 and Dec. 7. 

“Our ability to keep Mason safe and focused on our mission is a credit to our students, faculty and staff. Together, we have kept cases relatively low and Mason operating. Our efforts are working, and we must continue to work together to keep Mason safe,” said Washington in an email sent to the Mason community on Dec. 1. 

Mason plans to increase testing in the spring semester. In the email sent on Dec. 1, Washington announced that Mason has plans to increase testing from 1,000 to 10,000 tests per week by switching to a saliva test instead of the current nasal swab test. 

The increase in testing includes testing all residential students once per week, testing 10 to 20 percent of faculty, staff and non-residential students each week and increasing diagnostic testing. In the spring, Mason faculty members Dr. Ali Andalibi, Dr. Lance Liotta and Dr. Virginia Espina will be leading an in-house surveillance testing analysis at the Mason CAP/CLIA laboratory. 

“This is an important change in our operations, one that will allow us to rely on the expertise of our faculty and aligns with my goal to expand research in areas of critical importance,” wrote Washington. 

Despite the increase in cases following Thanksgiving, compared to other universities Mason’s COVID-19 numbers remain low. Virginia Commonwealth University has had a total of 506 reported cases according to VCU’s COVID-19 dashboard. According to Virginia Tech’s dashboard, the university has had 1,746 positive cases since Aug. 3.

Notably, Mason has performed less testing than Virginia Tech during the fall semester. Since the beginning of the year, Mason has performed a total of 13,196 tests. That total does not include the Kallaco tests that were given to students prior to move-in. Virginia Tech has performed 42,451 tests since Aug. 3.

But Mason has completed more tests than a few other Virginia universities. VCU has reported less testing than Mason at 11,958 tests. James Madison University has only conducted 8,492 tests since July 1. According to JMU’s COVID-19 dashboard, the university has had 1,687 positive tests.

Across the board, Virginia has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, resulting in new restrictions to be put into place by Governor Ralph Northam. 

In an email sent on Nov. 18, Washington touched on those new restrictions announced by Gov. Northam. None of the restrictions affected instruction and most university operations remained the same. New limits were put on events and other activities, restricting them to 25 people or less. Events at Eaglebank Arena and other public venues were decreased to 30 percent occupancy, or 250 people.