Students, faculty and staff should minimize risks and continue social distancing and hygiene efforts as flu season begins.
By Kristen Mitchell
George Washington University leaders urge the on-campus and off-campus communities to continue following public health guidance and adhere to safety measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, the GW COVID-19 Testing Dashboard reflected an uptick in positive cases. Based on follow-up discussions with students and staff who have tested positive, GW has determined that the increase in the number of cases among members of the university community is attributed to a recent trend of individuals gathering in small groups and not following social distancing guidelines. On- and off-campus social gatherings must be limited to 10 people or less per university and District guidelines. However, the GW team is learning that even smaller gatherings can be risky, especially if the space is too small to allow for social distancing.
"The university has implemented a number of public health measures to help minimize the impact of COVID-19 on the university community, including off-campus students,” said Scott Burnotes, the vice president for safety and facilities. “We understand that everyone is experiencing a little COVID fatigue, but it is extremely important not to get complacent as we are entering the season where we tend to spend more time indoors.
“Each measure is equally as important to help reduce the risk of transmission, but nothing will 100% eliminate that risk. That is why the university has also established our own testing capability, backed by our experts in the schools of public health, nursing and medicine and health sciences,” Mr. Burnotes said.
“Finding out that you or another member of our community is positive could be frightening, but it helps us proactively identify individuals and get them access to resources they need to stay healthy and/or recover."
An infomail sent to the university community Monday highlighted the importance of social distancing and limiting the size of group gatherings
Identifying and Guiding COVID-19 Positive Individuals
When members of the GW on-campus cohort test positive for COVID-19, there is a process in place to limit transmission of the disease and provide support for individuals as they enter isolation and seek additional medical care. (Learn more about the steps that follow a positive COVID-19 test.)
Members of the fall on-campus cohort are required to monitor their COVID-19 symptoms daily. Students who believe they have symptoms of COVID-19 should self-quarantine immediately, contact their professors and not attend in-person classes; staff and faculty should notify their supervisors that they are sick. Everyone with COVID-19 symptoms should immediately schedule a test through the medical portal.
Members of the on-campus cohort also participate in weekly COVID-19 testing on the Foggy Bottom and Virginia Science and Technology campuses. Using the medical portal, individuals schedule an appointment at a GW testing clinic to receive a viral PCR test, developed by researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health to detect COVID-19. Tests are processed in-house at a new public health laboratory in Science and Engineering Hall.
Individuals are able to view their test results within 24 to 48 hours of being tested. Within 24 hours, those who receive positive results and are determined to have the COVID-19 infection receive additional communication from the Campus COVID Support Team (CCST) to coordinate support and review the next steps. All test results are reported by the laboratory to D.C. Health, Virginia Department of Health or other state or county governmental entities as may be required by law. These state health departments carry out contact tracing activities that include interviewing COVID-19 positive individuals and their close contacts.
Individuals who receive negative test results should continue to adhere to the COVID-19 Campus Health and Wellbeing Policy, including guidelines on social distancing, symptom tracking, personal protective equipment (PPE) and handwashing. No additional actions are required.
Supporting COVID-19 Positive Students
The Colonial Health Center and the CCST coordinate to provide the support needed after a positive test result. The CCST notifies the Division for Student Affairs when a student tests positive for COVID-19 and completes a case investigation and reviews isolation instructions with students. CCST facilitates communication with specific GW officials who assist in coordinating clinical care, isolation, access to food and supplies and return to school for residential students. These officials include members of the Division for Student Affairs CARE Team. GW CARE can assist students in communicating with their professors or academic adviser if they are unable to attend classes.
Positive students will see a hold on their GWorld Cards. Residential students will retain access only to their assigned residence hall building and room until the hold is removed.
Following the case investigation, the CCST assists with contact tracing efforts, which involves reaching out to individuals the positive student said they had recent contact with. Individuals are provided with instructions on what to do if they were exposed to COVID-19.
GW has implemented enhanced routine cleaning protocols as well as processes for cleaning and disinfecting areas that have been occupied by a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. Residence hall space used by positive students is thoroughly cleaned, along with any campus spaces the individual visited for longer than 15 minutes within the past seven days.
The CCST follows up with COVID-19 positive students after five days to determine whether they have developed new symptoms and ensure they have received communication from DC Health or the Virginia Department of Health. After 10 days, the CCST again checks on the student’s condition. Students must be cleared by the Colonial Health Center before resuming regular on-campus activities. After isolation is completed, individuals do not participate in the campus-wide testing cadence for 90 days.
Responding to COVID-19 Positive Faculty and Staff
When GW staff or faculty test positive for COVID-19 as part of the campus-wide testing protocol, Occupational Health, as well as the CCST, follows up with them within 24 hours. Upon notification of a positive test result, faculty and staff should self-isolate at their homes and alert their immediate supervisor that they will be out of work. The CCST works with positive individuals to complete a case investigation and assist with contact tracing efforts.
While in isolation, faculty and staff are not permitted to come to campus. Individuals exposed to COVID-19 and identified through contact tracing will also have restricted access to campus. GW employees have access to Pandemic Time, which can be used if individuals are required to self-isolate or quarantine in their homes or need to perform care-giving duties for family members with COVID-19.
GW has implemented enhanced routine cleaning protocols as well as processes for cleaning and disinfecting areas that have been occupied by a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. Office space used by positive individuals is thoroughly cleaned, along with any campus spaces the individual visited for longer than 15 minutes within the past seven days.
Health professionals follow up with positive individuals after five days and again after 10 days to determine whether they have developed any new symptoms and ensure they have received communication from DC Health or their state health department. After isolation is completed, positive individuals do not participate in the campus-wide testing cadence for 90 days.
Before resuming any activities on campus, staff members need to be cleared by Occupational Health. Supervisors should not make decisions about requiring staff to isolate, quarantine or return to work without guidance from the CCST and/or Occupational Health. When an employee tests positive, the CCST and/or Occupational Health will contact the employees impacted directly.
As always, the safety and care of our GW community is at the heart of the COVID-19 response efforts. University leadership is proud of the incredible scientific and administrative work that has gone into creating the appropriate infrastructure to manage the pandemic, the cooperation from students, staff and faculty and the support of our D.C. community.