GW officials said community members should stay informed through trustworthy sources as the situation evolves.
George Washington University officials are asking the GW community to be vigilant and assist in avoiding the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, a respiratory virus that, until a few weeks ago, had been known as the novel coronavirus.
As of March 2, the United States had numerous confirmed cases of COVID-19, and they are likely to increase. There are no confirmed cases in the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said they expect to see the number of cases increase as the disease spreads, while also stressing that the immediate risk remains low.
“With the increase of new locations in the U.S. with confirmed cases of COVID-19 among people who do not have recent international travel, it is now apparent that the virus is being transmitted within communities on a broad geographic scale,” said Christopher N. Mores, a professor of global health in the Milken Institute School of Public Health. “This was anticipated by public health professionals.”
GW officials said as the situation evolves, university community members should stay informed through trustworthy sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, local health departments and campus advisories.
They also said that the CDC as well as the university’s own public health experts assure there is no reason to believe that any member of the GW community is at a higher risk for contracting this virus.
With spring break rapidly approaching, university officials recommended that community members with personal travel plans to international destinations be mindful of potential risk of disruption to their re-entry to the United States as well as their ability to return to class and or work.
The CDC currently recommends only essential travel to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran and that travelers to Japan take enhanced precautions due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in those countries. Based on current conditions, the university has extended its travel restrictions for GW-affiliated student travel to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran until March 31.
The university said individuals who visit countries on the CDC's Level 3 list, which lists places to avoid nonessential travel, should be prepared to self-isolate and stay home for a 14-day period before returning to campus and their normal routine. As countries on this list could change rapidly, GW officials said every person who plans to travel outside the United States should check the list daily before they depart.
Officials said because the public health situation is dynamic and risk tolerance varies by individual, students and their families should make the final decision about what is best for their situation. They said the university will work with individual students on a case-by-case basis to support and help students navigate the completion of their academic work whenever possible.
GW community members who are currently on GW-related international travel or had plans for travel later this semester and have questions should contact the Office for Study Abroad at [email protected].
The university's readiness and preparedness taskforce will continue to evaluate current conditions and advice from CDC and medical partners as GW continues to evaluate its preparedness actions. The Division of Safety and Security will also continue to monitor the situation and will respond accordingly.
While there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases with a connection to GW, the university will continue to advise the community of official notices and resources regarding health precautions, travel safety and related key information on the virus as the information is made available.
The university has taken steps across campuses to assist in keeping members of the GW community healthy, such as placing hand sanitizing stations in residence halls and other centralized locations as well as ensuring that shuttles, SafeRide vehicles and other high-touch areas are being wiped down frequently.
Sanitizing wipes have also been placed in the food courts to give community members the opportunity to wipe down surfaces or devices. Wipes will also be added to the computer labs around campus to clean the keyboards prior to use.
Dr. Mores, who is also a member of GW’s readiness and preparedness taskforce, said now is the time to adopt behaviors to reduce exposure to the virus through activities such as hand washing and sensibly reducing how often you are in crowded places.
GW officials said the best ways to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including the flu, are as follows:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Immediately throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Get a flu vaccine if you have not yet done so.
“We each have an important role in protecting people in our communities who are vulnerable to severe disease from COVID-19,” Dr. Mores said. “You may be in good health, but you could inadvertently transmit COVID-19 to someone who is not. Some people are more at risk for complications from the infection because of underlying health issues. Be intentional, take stock of your behavior and make choices to keep yourself and those around you healthy.”