A safe and successful semester is possible if we all do our part to fight COVID

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Mandatory vaccinations and a return to wearing masks indoors on campus are two of the primary tools George Mason University will use this fall to provide a safe living, learning and working environment.

But as Mason President Gregory Washington stated in a message to the university community last week, the continued successful management of COVID-19 boils down to the same main factor as last year—students, faculty and staff taking the necessary safe steps to protect themselves and others.

“We have a robust plan to keep COVID in check,” Washington said, citing vaccines, masks, the daily Mason COVID Health Check, and testing. “We now need the resolve to use them relentlessly so that we together prevent COVID from spreading.” 

“Our ability to have a more vibrant campus this academic year depends on all of us doing our part,” said Julie Zobel, Mason’s associate vice president for safety, emergency, and enterprise risk management. “We need to exercise this same level of discipline and shared sense of responsibility for the 2021-22 academic year.”

This fall there will be about 5,400 residential students—nearly twice the number from last year—as well as more faculty and staff reporting to campus. The precautions outlined in Mason’s COVID Safety Plan and Safe Return to Campus website should sound familiar: Stay home when not well, wear masks, physically distance, complete the Mason COVID Health Check symptoms and exposure screener daily, undergo testing, and practice good hygiene.

Campus vaccination numbers are climbing. As of Aug. 15, 24,084 (81.8%) of the 29,420 students who plan to take at least one class in person or reside on campus this fall have verified through the Health Services Patient Portal that they are vaccinated or have been granted exemptions for medical or religious reasons (1,217, 4.1%). Also, as of Aug. 15, 83% of employees have uploaded their vaccination status as required.

“Every student, faculty, and staff member who gets vaccinated contributes to Mason’s resiliency and brings us one step closer to the vibrant Mason experience we have come to expect and appreciate,” said David Farris, Mason’s executive director of safety and emergency management.

Vaccines are available at one of Mason’s COVID surveillance test sites, Fenwick A Wing (formerly the MIX), on the Fairfax Campus.

Nonvaccinated members of the Mason community will be tested at least once a week. Students and employees had until Aug. 15 to seek a medical or religious exemption.

Mason will continue to follow the advice of public health officials and tap into its vast collective knowledge. At the outset of the pandemic, more than 200 members of the university community formed 20 working groups to ensure the university’s COVID procedures were both as comprehensive and as practical as possible. These groups capitalized on such in-house areas of expertise as public health, epidemiology, laboratory analysis, information technology, and other aspects of COVID management.

These groups will continue to monitor new developments in the disease; work with federal, state and local public health officials; and modify plans as necessary if circumstances change.

Mason’s precautions and procedures have helped keep the university’s number of COVID cases low despite being the largest university in the state. During the 2020-21 academic year, there were 901 positive cases—452 were nonresidential students and 49 were contractors. There were 258 cases among residential students, with no known classroom transmissions, and 142 cases among faculty and staff.

You can track Mason’s COVID data here.