President Washington provides more details on testing plan

Dear Mason faculty and staff:

I hope your first week of the fall semester has gone well. I am writing with more updates on the status of our ongoing efforts to track COVID-19 cases at George Mason University.

We are no longer using Kallaco test kits
Our use of Kallaco self-collection kits is officially over. We have exhausted our supplies of Kallaco kits as scheduled, and have no plans to order more. Other test kits, administered by health professionals, are now being used for all tests.

Residential randomized tests are now mandatory
This week we began soliciting volunteers for our randomized tests of students living on campus. To underscore the vital importance of this testing, starting next week we will make participation mandatory for residential students selected to participate.

Strong participation needed for randomized surveillance testing
We recognize how busy everyone is with the start of the semester. However, a robust participation rate is important in order to achieve effective levels of test results from all members of the university community.

If you receive an email selecting you for participation in randomized testing, I strongly encourage you to get tested. It is for the good of the entire university community. 

More insights on Kallaco testing kits
Members of the faculty continue to express concerns about the validity of the initial round of COVID-19 pre-screening we conducted among students arriving to live in our residence halls. We had formulated our plan with a working group of faculty and medical professionals, but as an added step, I asked additional, nationally renowned scientists among Mason’s faculty to review our methods and offer ways to make improvements.

One faculty member I asked to review the process is Dr. Ali Andalibi, a molecular biologist and geneticist who serves as associate dean of research for the College of Science. Dr. Andalibi’s analysis is that our initial screening process was not ideal. Nonetheless, he concluded that the results we attained were reliable.  I urge you to read his analysis here. While it is somewhat technical, he thoroughly addresses most of the issues that were brought forward by some faculty.

The initial screening of 3,000-plus students turned up a small number of positive results. It was far better for those students and everyone they encountered to learn of their positivity prior to leaving home for Mason, not after arriving. Given the options of deploying this type of pre-test or not pretesting, we chose this option given it was the only viable option available to us at the time.

Nonetheless, with the guidance of health and science faculty we improved on our process earlier this week by requiring that anyone collecting their own test samples do so under the guidance of a trained professional, to reduce the risk that samples would be collected improperly, prompting false-negative results.  There were some faculty who were still not comfortable with this additional step, so I met with leaders of the Faculty Senate to outline a path forward.  While discussions were at times contentious, we were able to reach a better path forward for our university community and I want to thank all involved for working through this with us.

As we progress through the semester, we will continue to ask our preeminent health and science faculty to evaluate how we can continue to improve our testing methods. Among our areas of focus are how frequently we should retest students living on campus, what types of tests and analysis we should use, and how heavily we could rely on our own on-campus laboratories for rapid-return testing. Whenever we make a major change we will keep you informed in our spirit of transparency.

So far, I am very impressed by how seriously I see the whole university community taking this threat. We are wearing masks, keeping our distance, keeping our hands washed, and a lot of hungry Patriots are keeping our Starship robots rolling all over campus.

Keep up the great effort, Patriots!


Gregory Washington

Posted in Coronavirus Communications.