Mason Student Diagnosed with Coronavirus

Dear Mason Patriots,

On the evening of March 19, George Mason University was made aware that a student who attended classes in Arlington tested positive for coronavirus and is receiving treatment at a local hospital. While this student is undergoing treatment, please be considerate of the student’s privacy and wellbeing. We all wish the student a quick recovery and the university is working to provide the student with assistance and support.

An investigation is being conducted by the local health department to determine if anyone else within our community should take additional precautions such as self-isolation or quarantine.  The student does not reside on campus, and to our knowledge, the last time that this student was on the Arlington campus was on March 4.

The university has taken aggressive steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus within the Mason community by moving classes to an online format, cancelling events, and promoting telework whenever possible. Given these precautions and what we know about the situation, the risk of exposure to other students, faculty, and staff who visited the Arlington campus remains low.

We encourage anyone that has concerns about potential exposure to await official guidance from the health department or university before taking additional precautions.  Individuals who were at risk of exposure will be contacted directly and provided specific guidance. The actions the university is taking are consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Virginia Department of Health guidelines, but we understand that this situation may cause some anxiety in our community.

If you have individual concerns about the university’s response, please contact safety@gmu.edu. At this time, we continue to stress the importance of general precautions; wash your hands, practice good hygiene, monitor yourself for illnesses, remain home if you are sick, and continue to practice social distancing. If you feel ill or have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.

For more information about coronavirus, please visit www.gmu.edu/coronavirus.

David Farris, PhD
Executive Director, Safety & Emergency Management

Lisa Park, MD, MPH
Executive Director, Student Health Services

Thank you, faculty and staff

March 19, 2020

Dear Colleagues:

I want to express my appreciation to all of you at this unprecedented time. I know each of you is doing a tremendous amount of additional work on top of your regular responsibilities and I am grateful for your patience and understanding as we address numerous issues surrounding the continuity of operations. We are a vibrant community with connections all over the world, and your health and safety are paramount. All of the decisions we are making, and will continue to make in the coming days, are focused on your well-being.

In coordination with college/school administration, the faculty senate, and the university leadership team, the Provost’s office is addressing a variety of issues central to university operations to ensure the best possible continuity of instruction, research, and student services in this unprecedented environment.

Our administrative team is listening to your concerns and addressing them as quickly as possible. For administrative issues, please reach out to Renate Guilford. Janette Muir is managing instructional continuity  Pam Shepherd and Melanie Balog in the university’s central communications office  are managing university wide messaging, and Amber Hannush  is in charge of coordination.

For the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 and how the university community is responding, please be sure to regularly review the information available at http://www.gmu.edu/coronavirus/. These links are updated daily, and will take you to specific topics of interest and direct you to the most pertinent and up-to-date information.

Thank you for your tremendous contributions to help Mason move forward during this time.

Sincerely,

David Wu
Provost and Executive Vice President

Campus mail service update

Mail Services has provided the following information:

  • Fairfax campus: Regular mail delivery will be on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday until normal operations resume. Mail Services front counter will be open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Arlington and SciTech campuses:  Interoffice mail delivery service will be on Tuesday and Friday.
  • Mail delivery to essential departments will continue on the usual schedule.
  • Departments may request their mail be held until Mason resumes its normal schedule. Departments may also request to pick up their mail at the HUB, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Please send either request to Mail Services at mailroom@gmu.edu.
  • The HUB mailroom will be closed on weekends.

With questions, contact Terry Metro at tmetro@gmu.edu.

Research Continuity of Operations Plan

Dear Colleagues,

The growing number of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 over the last 48 hours necessitates a change in our response to this unprecedented public health challenge. To protect the health and safety of our community by reducing risk associated with social transmission of the virus, with the exception of activities designated “critical” PIs must make plans to:

  • end all research activities conducted in Mason labs and facilities, including leased facilities, by Friday, March 20
  • end all research activities conducted at off-site locations outside of their homes, including clinical settings and field sites, by Friday, March 20.

At this time, Mason anticipates that “critical” designation will be given to activities that require animal husbandry, research related to COVID-19, and maintenance associated with essential equipment and materials.

Faculty requesting “critical” activities designation MUST submit an electronic request to their associate deans or directors for research providing information in the attached form if they have not already done so. Requests for “critical” designation will be reviewed by a committee convened online by the vice president for research.

The university recognizes that the limits described herein may have implications for faculty tenure and promotion timelines as well as progress to degree for graduate students. Regrettably, given the gravity of the pandemic, these concerns alone are not sufficient to earn the “critical” designation. However, Mason leadership is actively working to identify and implement other flexibilities to mitigate these concerns; more information will be available shortly.

After Friday, March 20, Mason researchers and scholars should plan to spend the majority, if not all, of their research time working from home on activities that include but are not limited to: engaging in data collection through on-line means; writing manuscripts and dissertations; completing books; conducting literature reviews; designing research plans; engaging with collaborators in research discussions through on-line platforms; and performing data analysis. PIs should work with their teams to develop personalized plans that allow each individual to conduct research remotely to the fullest extent possible – special care should be given to plans developed for students planning to graduate this year. During this period, all PIs should continue charging to sponsored awards as planned. No immediate changes in support for research staff, students, and postdoctoral fellows should be made as long as these individuals can stay engaged in their research work in some capacity (e.g., consider activities like those described above). PIs should also ensure that they have contact information for students, postdocs, and research staff, and that group members are familiar with their research continuity of operations plans.

For critical activities, controlled access to Mason research labs and facilities will be available. When Mason labs and facilities are accessed, social distancing strategies should be maintained for critical work and flexible work schedules implemented, while also supporting strong lab safety practices. If any researcher – staff, graduate student or faculty member – conducting critical activities demonstrates minor symptoms of illness, including but not limited to cough or fever, the individual should stay home. Anyone in doubt about whether they could be ill are directed to NOT go to work.

Mason will be working with sponsors during this period to ensure that we continue to operate in a compliant and appropriate manner. Staff in our offices of sponsored programs and research integrity and assurance are prepared to work remotely and will be available to provide ongoing support. Federal guidance on support for research through grants and contracts during this public health emergency can be found here: https://www.cogr.edu/institutional-and-agency-responses-covid-19-and-additional-resources. In addition, the offices of research integrity and assurance and environmental health and safety are implementing phased plans to maintain continuity of operations for human subjects, lab support and animal husbandry.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to you for joining with us to keep our community as safe and healthy as possible. Additional guidance, including FAQs, is available at this website: https://www2.gmu.edu/research-continuity-guidelines. If you have any questions about this guidance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your associate dean or director for research.

Sincerely,

Deborah Crawford
Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Impact

David Wu
Provost and Executive Vice President

March 18: University Housing

Dear Mason Patriot,

Our top priority remains the health and safety of you, our students. We know you have questions and concerns and we thank you for your continued patience as we have created a plan about residency and move out.

In order to minimize the risks to students and in light of the university’s decision to extend alternative virtual instruction for the remainder of the semester, we will begin to close the residence halls for the semester to all but those with exceptional circumstances. We will complete the process outlined below by 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25.

  • Effective immediately and through Wednesday, March 25, residents will be able to access their space to retrieve basic belongings. If you have what you need, there is no need or requirement for you to return.
  • Please ensure that good social distancing measures are adhered to during this time to retrieve belongings.
  • Departing residents will not have access beyond Wednesday, March 25 for the foreseeable future.
  • Please note that the stated timeframe above is not a formal moving out period. Students will have the option to return to their residences after Monday, April 13 to formally move out, once the university has a better sense of the situation and we can allow for appropriate social distancing.
  • Use this parking pass when removing belongings between now and March 25th or moving out of the halls after April 13th.

Requests for an exemption

Students who need to stay past Wednesday, March 25, will be required to show exceptional circumstances. Based on the guidance we’ve received, we know that by greatly reducing the number of students in residence, we will reduce risk and we can more easily manage social distancing and health concerns that may emerge.

The Mason Housing Portal will make request for exemption forms available starting Wednesday March 18. Please note: all students seeking an exemption must file a new request form.

Approvals will be granted within 24-48 hours and will be granted in exceptional circumstances where it is impossible for residents to return home. Examples include:

  • International students whose residence is outside the U.S. who are unable to return home
  • Student employees who have been identified as critical to on-site operations
  • Students who must continue in an internship, clinical placement, or practicum which requires on-site presence
  • Students whose personal circumstances prevent them from returning home. Examples include:
    • Absence of an off-campus home
    • Home is quarantined
    • Home presents a safety/health threat to self or others
    • Students for whom returning home would prevent them from accessing courses remotely because of inability to access internet/technology capability at home – please note the university will be working with these students to eliminate these barriers and will expect them to return home when they have been addressed.
All requests must include supporting documentation where necessary, including:
  • Names of supervisors with contact information for verification
  • Any correspondence supporting your request to stay
Students who are not approved will need to depart campus by Wednesday, March 25.  Please know that our top priority is the safety and well being of our residents.

Limited Services and expectations after March 25

To keep our community safe, all residents who are approved to remain on campus should understand the following conditions and limitations:
  • Dining options and hours will be limited, as will other services and HRL desks will have modified hours and services.  Public safety officers will continue be on campus.
  • No programming or events will be held in the halls during this time.
  • You should limit travel to the minimum necessary and practice good hygiene and social distancing for the safety of yourself and those around you.
  • Guests will not be permitted in the halls during this time.
  • We may need to make room changes or moves at any time to ensure health and safety.
  • If you are tested for COVID-19 you will be moved to a location for isolation for a minimum of 14 days or until cleared by health professionals.
  • If you are exposed to COVID-19, you may be moved in order to facilitate a 14-day quarantine.

We know we can count on students to comply with these rules as well as all those in the student code of conduct which will continue to apply during this time.

Formal Moving Out Period

Beginning the week of April 13, we anticipate creating a staggered move-out schedule through the end of the semester. This will allow for appropriate social distancing for a safe move-out process.  More specific details will come out once we have more information. We regret that requests to move out in the meanwhile cannot be accommodated.

Refunds

At this time, we are exploring ways to refund students not returning. We realize this action prompts several questions and concerns and we will be following up with more communication soon to address this. Please continue to check your Mason email.

We thank you for your patience while we work together to navigate the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19. You are in our thoughts and we wish you nothing but the best during this time.  We are so proud of our resilient Mason Nation and thank you for your patience, resilience and cooperation.

Sincerely,

Dr. Christopher J. Holland
Chief Housing Officer

SHS Services Update

As healthcare professionals at Student Health Services, we are working hard and adjusting daily to support the  healthcare questions and needs of our community.

Given the present pandemic, SHS is implementing the following steps, in order to reduce the risk of community spread of the virus:

  • Students should not walk into the clinic without calling first.
  • Students must call the Fairfax Clinic (703-993-2831) to talk with a nurse about symptoms, illness, or a health concern. The nurse will evaluate the concern and determine the appropriate level of care needed.
  • Many appointments may be able to be conducted over the phone.
  • No routine appointments (such as vaccinations or physical exams) will be scheduled during this time.
  • Students should call or email the Immunization and Insurance Offices to have questions answered. Immunization and Insurance Offices are closed to in-person visits.

These practices help reduce the risk of exposing others, both patients and healthcare workers, to potential illness. Thank you for helping us keep the Mason community safe.

Sincerely,

Lisa L. Park, MD, MPH
Executive Director, Student Health Services
George Mason University

Transitioning to Telework

Dear Patriots,

As we continue to shift our administrative operations to telework, we wanted to share some guidance and resources to help you in that process, as employees and managers. As communicated previously, Mason’s operations remain open with employees encouraged to telework.

Transitioning to Telework

Teleworking will mean different things for different people, as different roles transition more easily to telework. There are some jobs and assignments that require onsite presence and cannot be done remotely. It is important that employees work closely with their supervisor to make decisions and accommodations for their specific situation and responsibilities. HR & Payroll has put together Telework Guidelines for employees and managers to help navigate this process. If you are currently teleworking, or will begin teleworking, please complete a telework form.

At times, this may require flexibility and modifications to an employee’s scope of work to rethink how to make the best use of their skills and bandwidth in this environment. It is important that everyone is able to continue working and is able to do so in a safe environment. Where alternative duties cannot be identified, supervisors should contact Employee Relations at emprel@gmu.edu.

Student employees (i.e., student wage workers, graduate assistants) are not required to telework, but those who want to continue working remotely should follow guidance provided for faculty and staff. The University Flexible Work Policy will be expanded temporarily during this time to include student workers.

Using Technology to Telework

In this new remote environment, many employees will need to use new tools or use familiar technology in an unfamiliar way.  Information to help employees stay connected with workplace is available at Working Remotely: A Guide to Maintaining Continuity.

Most Mason applications—Office 365, Patriot Web, Blackboard/myMason—are available via the Internet with just your NetID and Patriot Pass Password. Some select services, including MESA and Banner Admin, may require the Virtual Private Network (VPN) when teleworking. Webex Meetings and Webex Teams accounts have been established for every employee, and Windows Virtual Desktops will be available to provide access to Blackboard and Microsoft Office 365 applications on personal, non-Mason computers, by the end of the week.

Call forwarding to an external line, such as a cell or home phone, is available. Contact your department’s Telecom Coordinator or Telecom Administration to coordinate getting this service. Update your email signature, out-of-office and voice mail greetings as necessary to provide your updated contact information and availability.

Flexibility and Leave

We recognize many of you are facing additional responsibilities outside of work during the day, as child or other care needs may be more demanding with the closing of schools, daycares and other facilities. Employees should work with their managers to prioritize their responsibilities and encourage all to be flexible and accommodating, and report leave as appropriate.

To respond to these situations, employees have access to the Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL), as well as personal leave for supplemental time off. PHEL usage guidelines have been expanded beyond direct COVID-19 testing or treatment, which we will continue to update on our Public Health Emergency Leave Guide.

The Road Ahead

This is unprecedented for Mason as an institution, as it is for all of us as individuals, so we appreciate your continued flexibility in this evolving situation. We do not know how long this is going to last. We will continue to develop additional guidance and new tools, which we will share through regular updates and communication. Please let your supervisor know what more we can do to help in these challenging times.

We will continue to communicate with you as this situation progresses. The latest and most comprehensive information is available on Mason’s official coronavirus page. Thank you for your contribution to Mason and doing your part to ensure we can deliver on our mission of teaching, research, and service during this trying time.

Sincerely,

Carol Dillon Kissal
Senior Vice President, Administration and Finance

Message from Dean Ginsberg

Colleagues:

I hope that you are remaining safe, healthy and well.

As I have been saying, “…extraordinary times require extraordinary efforts by extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.” I am proud to have extraordinary colleagues.

Thanks to everyone for ALL you are doing—and will do—as we support each other and assure the continued learning and development of our students.

As we transition to the “new reality” we all face, and continue the important “online lift” of our academic programs to an online format, it is very important that we remain connected, share information pertinent to developments at our university and continue support for each other during this complex time.

I will be communicating regularly with you. And, I promise that I will make every possible effort to share information that will keep you informed about issues pertinent to Mason’s plans, associated policies and practices and ways that we can continue to support each other and our students.

I write this message as a follow-up to Interim President Holton’s and Provost Wu’s March 16 messages, which I hope you already have read.

In addition, please open, read and carefully review ALL MESSAGES that come to you from the university as they will provide you with important information. Indeed, additional information will be forthcoming as the coronavirus crisis continues to be dynamic, fast moving and circumstances continue to be rapidly changing.

As was reported by Interim President Holton, in her message distributed on March 16, given recent guidance from the CDC and other public health agencies and health professionals, Mason has decided to extend the period of online instruction for ALL classes for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.

In addition, as also was reported in the March 16 message, the university’s academic calendar has been revised slightly such that the spring 2020 semester will be extended by one week. Consequently, the summer 2020 class schedule will begin on June 1, a week later than originally had been planned. I strongly suggest that you review the message from Interim President Holton, as well as other university messages and websites, for specific changes in the dates for and schedule of the academic calendar for spring 2020 and summer 2020.

Also, I want to reinforce and underscore recent communications from Provost Wu that no coursework or class activities, including evaluative assignments, are to be due or take place prior to the March 23 restart of classes (in an online format) other than for the small number of our classes that had re-started on March 16.

Also, in terms of CEHD faculty communications with students I want to inform you about an important shift in the “funnel for communications” from what I communicated last Friday.

  • Effective immediately, rather than sending communications to me that you intend for your students, if your message to your students is specific to your class, course requirements or other matters pertinent to your role as an instructor for your course, please send the message directly to your students. It is no longer necessary, or required, that you send your DRAFT messages to me (and Meg Yoder and Jerome Boettcher) for review and approval prior to distribution.
  • Please consult, as is necessary and appropriate, with your Academic Program Coordinator and/or School Director or Division Director, and please keep them informed about any issues or problems that may arise.
  • If you include in your message to your students’ information regarding Mason’s policy or practices related to the coronavirus crisis, please cite university policy as it is/was provided by the university. That is, please refer students to the specific policies of the university, likely the Mason web page (gmu.edu/coronavirus). I do not want to “slow” communications, yet also I want to be certain that all messages are accurate and consistent and only include information that is/was provided by the university.
  • Please be sure that your message is consistent with your syllabus for your course.
  • I also remind you not to offer medical advice.
  • I strongly encourage you to be positive in the language of your message to your students and help to motivate them and provide support for them – this is a very difficult time for us all.

Preparations are continuing intensively across the university to transition all of our classes to an online format. As we all prepare for online instruction for all classes, I remind you that there are many resources that are available to you which are summarized in the message I sent to you on Friday. In addition, for guidance on instructional continuity, please refer to the March 13 and March 16 messages from Provost Wu.

Currently, Mason’s campuses remain open, yet this is a fluid situation as guidance from the CDC and other public health agencies continues to be refined. Libraries, computer labs, Mason operations and Mason administrative offices now remain open and fully functioning, although many administrative offices are functioning virtually.

I also want to share with you that Mason has decided, until further notice, that:

  • Students who are employed (full- or part-time) by Mason in teaching, research or administrative roles, or who are engaging in research or providing support for research as part of their studies, should NOT be required to work in university facilities, whether on- or off-campus.
  • Where possible, faculty and staff supervisors should make arrangements for students to work remotely.
  • If a faculty or staff supervisor believes it is essential that one or more students come to university facilities, whether for teaching, research, or administrative support purposes, they must request an exception from this university policy from the Office of the Dean (my office) upon the recommendation of their School or Division Director.
  • Requests for an exception to this university policy must state why: a)  it is essential that the student works on site, b) when the student is needed for on-site work, c) where the student’s work will be performed, d) working arrangements for the student including supervisor support and social distancing strategies implemented, and e) contact information for any student seeking and granted an exception to this policy.
  • Decisions on requests for exceptions ordinarily would be made within 24-48 hours of receipt. However, university policy is that, effective immediately, no undergraduate students, individuals under age 18 or external visitors will be permitted in Mason’s research labs or facilities.

Again, thanks to each of you for your many efforts during this unprecedented time. I am very appreciative and express to you my sincere gratitude.

All the best—stay safe, healthy and well.