An update on COVID testing and Safe Return to Campus

Dear Fellow Patriots:

We are excited to bring students, faculty and staff back to campus and resume our mission of providing a rewarding and inclusive education. We also know that in these less certain times, a safe return to campus starts with a focus on health and a shared commitment to building a culture of well-being.

University teams have spent the summer working diligently to develop a plan for supporting and monitoring health on-campus. Our teams are working with our partners in public health to monitor health on campus, track potential symptoms of COVID-19 through self-reporting, testing and contact tracing, and isolate and treat those in our community who become ill.

We are pleased to share a summary of the plan below. We also encourage you to review our Safe Return to Campus website and plan for more details.

Creating a safe environment requires everyone’s help. Everyone can do their part by staying engaged, being aware of new requirements for safety and looking out for their fellow Patriots. Together, we can create an environment where health and safety go hand in hand with education and learning, and everyone has an opportunity to thrive.

Below is a summary of steps to take in order to come back – and stay back – on campus for the 2020-21 academic year. For the complete Mason Safe Return To Campus Plan, click here.

14 days prior to returning (residential students only)

  • Self-quarantine at home for 14 days.
  • Complete a COVID test.
    • You must have a negative COVID test to be cleared to move into a Mason residence hall.
    • If you test positive, seek medical attention as appropriate, and stay away from campus until you are cleared by a medical professional.
  • Students will receive a separate email with detailed instructions.

7 days prior to returning to campus (all students)

  • Start completing your daily Mason COVID Health Check™, a brief online questionnaire about your health status.

While on campus (all students, faculty, and staff)

  • Complete your daily Mason COVID Health Check
  • Wear a face covering over your mouth and nose at all times in public places.
  • Practice appropriate social distancing.
  • Practice appropriate hygiene, including thoroughly washing hands for at least 20 seconds, and if you can’t do that, use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes.
  • Stay home if you feel symptoms consistent with COVID.

If you display symptoms of COVID

  • Students, as well as uninsured Mason employees and on-campus contractors, will be tested at the Mason On-Campus Testing Site.
  • Student Health Services will continue to serve students at regional campuses through video telehealth and will work with those students to get testing convenient to their location.
  • All other employees should be tested through their insured health providers.
  • The Ángel Cabrera Global Center has been designated as an on-campus quarantine site, when warranted. Residential students who must quarantine, may be quarantined in their room or in the Cabrera Global Center based on public health guidance.
  • All other students, faculty and staff must stay away from campus until they are cleared by a medical professional to return.

Random testing to detect asymptomatic carriers

  • To help track the virus spreading via carriers who display no symptoms, throughout the academic year Mason will randomly select members of the community to request that they participate in voluntary testing.
  • Testing will be done at the Cabrera Global Center.

These are challenging times for everyone and we greatly appreciate everyone’s role in building a safe campus environment. We can do this together if everyone does their part. Let’s be Patriots and have a great year!

Sincerely,

Julie Zobel, PhD
Assistant Vice President, Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Risk Management

Carol Urban, RN, PhD
Testing Site Coordinator
Associate Dean, Practice & Strategic Initiatives
College of Health and Human Services

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

What to Expect for Fall 2020

Dear Patriots:

As final preparations for the school year are being made, I look forward to welcoming you back to Mason for the first day of fall semester classes on Monday, August 24.

Fall 2020 will look different at Mason, with decreased density on campus and more online learning. Students will have the opportunity to have a course schedule consisting of a mixture of in-person, hybrid and fully online classes. Students will receive a high-quality education regardless of the delivery mode or course format. Mason will support your learning and development consistent with our mission to provide you with a rich learning experience that is innovative and inclusive.

We will widely communicate if it becomes necessary for Mason to pivot to a fully remote and online format for our courses. Please pay close attention to messaging from the administration, your college and professors throughout the semester. The health and safety of students, faculty and staff remains, and always will be, our priority.

Fall schedules are available to view in PatriotWeb, including changes that may have been required because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the next two weeks, students will receive personal emails from the Registrar’s Office with their class schedules. Students also may receive messages from their college/school, or academic program, with added information relevant for the fall semester.

If you have questions or concerns about your class schedule, please contact your academic advisor.

Another change you should be aware of for this fall is that the bookstore will sell textbooks and course materials online only prior to the start of the fall semester and recommends that you order your materials to be delivered at home in advance of the semester. In addition, the bookstore does not plan to sell textbooks/course materials in-store the first two weeks of the semester to comply with social distancing requirements. After you receive your course syllabi, please order the needed materials immediately to ensure they arrive to you on time.

If you will be returning to Mason’s campus, remember that all faculty, staff, and students must complete the university’s online Safe Return to Campus Training. This training is available now for faculty and staff in MasonLEAPS and will be available in Blackboard to students on Monday, July 27. This training is an important step for the health and safety of our community and represents a shared commitment to keeping our campuses as healthy as possible.

I wish you well and look forward to seeing many of you soon. All the best.

Mark R. Ginsberg, Ph.D.
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President

 

Six Options for Learning in the Fall

Fall 2020 will look different at Mason, with decreased density on campus and more online learning. There will be opportunities for in-person learning for students who want to return to the Mason campus, and many other choices for learning online. In all cases, we are prepared to fully pivot to online learning, if public health factors make that necessary.

Here are the ways you can learn in the fall:

  1. Learn on Campus: In-Person
    • Classes meet on campuses, on the days, time and locations listed on your class schedule.
    • Physical distancing per university guidelines; masks are required in the classroom to ensure everyone’s safety.
  2. Learn on Campus: In-Person and Online (Hybrid)
    • 50% of the class meets in person on campus, with all students expected to attend class on the days, time and locations listed on your schedule.
    • Physical distancing will be observed based on university guidelines. Masks are required in the classroom.
    • 50% of the class work is completed online, on your own time. Keep in mind course instructions and deadlines for completing assignments.
  3. Learn on Campus: In Person and Live-Streamed (Hybrid)
    • In this flex model, you will alternate between in-person learning and live-streaming lectures. Your instructor will provide information on what days to come to campus. Physical distancing will be observed per university guidelines; masks are required in the classroom.
    • All students are expected to attend class either in-person or via live streaming on the days and times listed on your schedule.
  4. Learn in Place: Online, On Your Own Time
    • These courses will be 100% online, in an asynchronous format. You do not need to be on your computer or device on a specific day or at an exact time.
    • Be sure to pay close attention to the syllabus assignments and specific deadlines.
  5. Learn in Place: Online, Live-Streamed
    • Classes will meet in real time via Zoom or WebEx on the days and times listed in the class schedule. The instructor will facilitate live, online lectures and discussions.
  6. Learn in Place: Online, Live-Streamed and On Your Own (Hybrid)
    • This remote format is 50% live-streamed on the days and times listed on your class schedule.
    • The remainder of classwork is completed online, independently, on your own time. Be sure to pay close attention to instructions and deadlines listed in the course syllabus.

President Washington addresses Safe Return to Campus

Dear Patriots,

Preparation is underway for what may be the greatest campus-wide challenge the George Mason University community has ever taken on – our safe return to campus.

We have no playbook – none exists to navigate any modern university through a global pandemic, much less the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.

So, like every university, we are in the process of writing our new playbook, observing the be​st public health expertise that exists – often from the Mason community itself – to address the unknowns that await in months ahead.

The quality of education you can expect to receive will not change. We will not retreat from our mission to provide the very best, most inclusive education possible, to create a more free, just, and prosperous world. And we will support the health and safety of our community in pursuit of that goal.

To stay focused on our mission, we just have to think like Patriots. That means bridging often-competing interests to find our own way forward, like insisting on both excellence and inclusion as a core value of who we are.

For this challenge, it means both committing ourselves to the health, safety, and well-being of everyone in our community and maintaining the most complete university experience possible, as circumstances allow.

It means finding excellence through online instruction and through in-person coursework – and knowing when it’s best to use which technique.

And it means having the discipline to act in ways that protect our own health and look out for the health and safety of our fellow Patriots.

Instruction

We will offer the same robust academic plan for this fall that we always do, in a mix of in-person instruction and online classes. We will start and end the semester classes on time, beginning August 24 and ending December 19.

Drawing on our knowledge that in-person instruction makes a difference, particularly in smaller learning environments, we will preserve this environment where we are able to. Students learn best through dialogue and experience, when they can interact directly with other students and have more direct access to faculty.  At the same time, larger classes can be just as effective online, and for some the convenience makes a difference. We’ll develop excellence in blending both forms of instruction.

When in-person classes are best, we will observe public health best practices including social distancing in classrooms, enhanced cleaning procedures, and the requirement that everyone wear masks.

Coming back to campus

We know that bringing people back to campus is a major effort, and we will be conducting this effort in stages. Students who are living on campus will begin to come back in phases. Student staff will move in on August 8. Upper class students will move in between August 15 and 18. Freshmen will move in between August 19 and 21. Students will receive time slots from University Housing and Residence Life, and will need to follow those instructions closely.

Reducing campus density

The university you return to won’t look like the university you left. Everyone must wear face coverings in public places. Physical distancing will be required. We are reducing density in classrooms, residence halls and administrative offices. Supervisors will create safety plans and telework will remain an important component of work plans.  Our goal is to greatly reduce the density on campus while providing outstanding service to our students.

A lot can change in the next six weeks. We will be working closely with the local health department, Virginia Health Department and through Centers for Disease Control guidelines to put the safest environment in place. We will also continue to work with renowned experts in public health who work right here at Mason to guide the way.

Public health and safety

The university will not reopen until public health officials deem it safe for us to return. We also will remain agile. Should circumstances change, we are prepared to pivot back to full online instruction.

Shared commitment to each other

Each of us will need to do our part. We must complete online training to understand the new environment on campus. Anyone coming to campus is required to conduct a daily self-health check.

And, I cannot emphasize this enough: If you feel sick or are symptomatic, stay home.

It is not possible to make our university 100 percent risk-free. But we can greatly minimize risk, and our new playbook has been written so that we can make that happen, even without knowing exactly how this year will play out.

Each of us should review the university’s Safe Return to Campus website. For those who want to go even deeper, feel free to read our Safe Return to Campus Plan.

Above all, get ready for an academic year like none other. We will move through this year together, stronger and wiser for our efforts.

Alright, Patriots. Let’s get to work!

Sincerely,

Gregory Washington
President, George Mason University

 

 

A message supporting our international students

Dear Patriots,

This week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it would discontinue visa exceptions for international students on F-1 visas who take all of their courses for the semester online. This decision could force hundreds of thousands of international students to leave the United States and threatens to interrupt the academic work of more than 3,000 students here at George Mason University.

International students contribute greatly to the cultural and intellectual fabric of George Mason University, benefiting everyone in our community. Our best-in-state diversity ranking is in no small part dependent on the students from more than 130 countries who choose Mason for its academic and inclusive excellence. We are proud to say that you can meet the world on our campus. We have an obligation to stand with our international students and make our voice heard on this unfortunate decision.

Universities will be joining together to explore options for how we can protect this vulnerable population. Our Association of Public and Land Grant Universities shares these concerns, as you can see in this public statement. I, too, urge the administration to reconsider this executive action.

Here at Mason, and across Virginia, conversations are underway as we work to fully understand the new guidance and its impact on our operations and our students. We are committed to finding creative solutions so that our students are able to continue their study in the U.S.

Our Office of International Programs and Services (OIPS) is putting together more information, which will be forthcoming later this week. Faculty and administrators in the schools and colleges can expect to learn more from their deans; international students will receive information from OIPS, including guidance and announcements about FAQ’s and online discussions.

Despite unprecedented challenges we currently face, we will not waver in our support for our international community.

Sincerely,

Gregory Washington
President, George Mason University