Mason’s low COVID case counts lead to revised surveillance testing strategy

Dr. Gregory Washingon, president of George Mason University. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services.

Fellow Patriots:

I have good news to share regarding George Mason University’s fight to contain COVID-19. As we enter week six of the Fall 2021 semester, trends are looking very positive. For reasons I will explain fully in this message, I am pleased to share that soon we will significantly reduce required COVID testing for most who are fully vaccinated, and will offer free tests to any member of the university community who wishes to be tested, regardless of their vaccination status. The Mason community has earned this rollback in testing through its collective diligence in taking the many precautions to keep COVID at bay.

How we got here

As you know, for a safe and responsible fall reopening, we required all students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated or attain an approved medical or religious exemption, and report their vaccination status. We have required that the unvaccinated be tested weekly and physically distance. We have tested thousands of students and employees per week, regardless of vaccination status, surpassing surveillance testing standards of other Virginia universities. And finally, we have maintained a mask mandate for indoors and close-contact outdoor settings.

This community has taken this fight seriously. Masks are worn across campus, and 96 percent of our students and 91 percent of our faculty and staff either are vaccinated or have received exemptions from vaccination.

As a result, we are consistently tracking just 80 to 90 cases each week, amid a university community of 50,000. Most of those cases are mild breakthrough infections among those who are vaccinated, because the vaccinated make up the vast majority of the Mason community.

Overall, our positivity rate has ranged from 1.06 percent among unvaccinated students living off-campus to as little as 0.23 percent among vaccinated employees. Best of all, we have not seen a post-Labor Day spike in cases that we were watching closely for.

Patriots, our hard work and diligence is paying off. We are keeping COVID at bay.


Based on the stability of the campus environment, and following public health guidance, mandatory weekly COVID testing will end for the vast majority of Mason community members starting Monday, September 27, namely those who are fully vaccinated. However, any employee or student who would like to be tested may do so – we welcome you to receive a free test on campus.

We will continue to require the following testing requirements for specific populations:

  • Twice a week – all unvaccinated residential students and student athletes.
  • Once a week – all unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff in high-contact roles, as well as all vaccinated student athletes.  You will be contacted by the university for testing if you meet this criterion.
  • Once every two weeks – all vaccinated residential students and non-residential students, faculty and staff that are in high contact roles who are vaccinated.  You will be contacted by the university for testing if you meet this criterion.

While non-high contact vaccinated employees and students will no longer be required to undergo periodic surveillance testing, circumstances throughout the semester may warrant ad hoc, circumstantial testing, such as a localized spike in cases, or after a large on-campus event in which attendees have been in a crowded setting for extended periods. In those cases, should you receive an email to be tested, you must follow the guidance and get tested.  We also strongly encourage these individuals to come and test at any test site anytime they are concerned.

All students and faculty who do not have a 100 percent remote or online exemption are still required to complete the Mason COVID Health Check daily, as well as observe our mask policy, and stay off campus if you feel sick. We are getting the upper hand on COVID at Mason, but this battle is not over yet – while celebration is in order, so is continued smart management of our community. We will continue to make adjustments as conditions warrant.

The semester is young, but it is off to a very positive start, and that is because of you, fellow Patriots. Keep up the great work. I’ll see you around our campuses.


Gregory Washington

Posted in Coronavirus Communications.