George Mason University is making major changes to its testing operation for the Spring 2021 semester that will better safeguard the health and wellness of our community against COVID-19.
Our efforts in the fall made Mason a model for success in managing the virus, and that is a direct credit to our students, faculty and staff who did a tremendous job adapting to this new environment. We also know that the number of cases continues to rise nationally and regionally. So, it is important that we all remain vigilant and continue to do our part to help keep Mason safe.
Testing is at the core of our safety plan. As announced last month by President Washington, this spring we plan to greatly expand our capacity. We are also moving to a saliva-based PCR test (effective Jan. 11 in Fairfax and Jan. 25 for the Arlington and SciTech campuses) and will have Mason researchers process the test results in laboratories on the SciTech campus. These changes will help us get a faster and more accurate picture of the virus, and help us limit the spread at Mason.
Collecting representative samples is the key to accurately determining the prevalence of COVID in the Mason community, so your participation is strongly encouraged. Please read on to learn about the changes and how you can help stop the spread.
Advantages to saliva-based testing
We began moving to a saliva test this week to increase our testing capacity from 1,000 tests per week to a goal of 10,000 per week by March. These are the random surveillance tests that we are using to track asymptomatic cases on our campus. They are also easier and more comfortable to administer and allow for faster analysis.
Samples will be analyzed at SciTech at the College of Science’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine CAP/CLIA certified laboratories, so turnaround time for results should be reduced to an average of 2 business days or less.
Where to go for testing
We are expanding to five testing sites for random, surveillance testing across our campuses:
- The former first floor library in the Johnson Center opened Jan. 11 for testing of residential students, non-residential students, faculty and staff.
- Merten Hall, Room 1204 opens Jan. 19 for testing non-residential students, faculty and staff.
- The former MIX space in Fenwick Library opens Jan. 25 for testing residential students.
- In Arlington, Van Metre Hall, Room 308 opens Jan. 26 for testing non-residential students, faculty and staff. Testing will be conducted on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
- At SciTech, Randall’s Café in Colgan Hall opens Jan. 25 for testing residential and non-residential students, faculty and staff. Testing will be conducted on Mondays and Thursdays.
Surveillance testing for the Athletics department will remain in the Field House on the Fairfax Campus. The Ángel Cabrera Global Center parking garage will no longer be used for testing.
Everyone who participates in the surveillance testing must be prepared to show their Mason ID with their G number, confirmation of their appointment, and a green Mason COVID Health Check™ screening.
Where do you go for a test if you are symptomatic?
Students who are symptomatic or are identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive for coronavirus will be tested at Rogers Hall in the former Subway location. This testing site opened Jan. 11 and is strictly for student diagnostic tests ordered by Student Health Services.
Faculty and staff who are symptomatic should contact their health care provider for testing.
How to participate in surveillance testing
Students living on-campus will be tested weekly (unless an exemption has been granted) and will sign up for testing using the Patriot Course Scheduler. Residential students will need to show a negative test result before moving into residence halls. Housing and Residential Life will contact residential students this week with more information about the testing process.
Non-residential students, faculty and staff
Members of our student population who live off-campus, as well as faculty and staff, will be selected for weekly testing through a randomized process based on their risk group, which is based on their on-campus activities. Your daily completion of the COVID Health Check™ helps us understand who is coming to campus and when.
Participants will receive an email from firstname.lastname@example.org that informs them they have been selected with a link to the test information sheet, as well as a link to the Medicat portal. As part of the testing strategy, everyone will be asked to update their profile in Medicat, the electronic health record system.
Please be aware that the saliva test requires you to refrain from eating or drinking for 30 minutes before you provide your sample, unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from meeting this guideline. If you do not adhere to this guideline, it may affect the accuracy of your result, requiring a repeat of your test.
Receiving test results
After the sample is analyzed, participants will receive an email with instructions for logging in to the Student Health Services Patient Portal to view and print results.
Students who test positive will be contacted by Student Health Services. Faculty and staff who test positive will be contacted by Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Risk Management. Please follow health department and health professional guidance to isolate when you are positive, this protects our entire community.
In the rare case when a test is inconclusive, the participant will receive a secure message with instructions for scheduling a new time for sample collection.
Vaccination priority groups
We know many of you have questions about the timeline for vaccinations for our community. The Virginia Department of Health, in partnership with local health departments, is leading this effort and we are assisting on our campuses. Here are the broad categories with details as they relate to the Mason community.
Category 1a: This group is front-line health care providers. At Mason, these are front-line healthcare workers, testing staff, faculty and lab employees who are supporting testing and mental health practitioners. These employees have already been contacted.
Category 1b: This group includes child care workers and first responders at Mason, including police. They will be contacted this week.
Category 1c: Most Mason faculty and staff. You can find out more about the priority groups using this tool from the Virginia Department of Health. Mason is coordinating with the health departments in Arlington, Prince William County and Fairfax County; employees will be included in population totals based on their primary campus.
Employees are encouraged to register for the vaccine with their local health department. The university is exploring additional opportunities to provide vaccine to our community. If the university can provide vaccine or access to vaccination, information will be shared as soon as it becomes available. We know many members of our community are eager to get the vaccine and we will continue to share new information as we receive it.
Flexibility is key
As part of our regular communication with department officials, we are closely monitoring positivity rates and other key metrics. If a change needs to be made to our Spring 2021 plan, it will be communicated it to the university community on Friday, Jan. 15.
We appreciate everyone’s commitment to completing the daily Mason COVID Health Check™, wearing face coverings, keeping at least six feet apart, frequent hand washing or use of hand sanitizer, and staying home when feeling unwell.
Thank you for doing your part to keep Mason safe and healthy.
Julie Zobel, PhD
Associate Vice President for Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Risk Management