Update on COVID-19 Testing, Spring Semester Planning

GW leadership provides a public health update, including news about the new COVID-19 Testing Dashboard, as well as the latest information on spring planning.

COVID Response Information
September 14, 2020

To the George Washington University Community:

As we mark two weeks since the beginning of most classes and nearly a month of COVID-19 testing, we wanted to thank all of our students, faculty, and staff for doing your part to keep one another healthy and safe, whether by adhering to our public health protocols on campus, by telework, or by teaching and learning online. All of these actions are critical to our response to the pandemic, and together our efforts have allowed us to continue to fulfill our academic mission despite these challenging times.

Today, we are writing to provide you with a public health update, including news about GW’s new COVID-19 Testing Dashboard, as well as the latest information on our spring planning.

Regular testing of the approximately 4,000 GW students, faculty, staff, and contractors approved to be on campus is a key element of the university’s public health strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Our tests, developed by Milken Institute School of Public Health researchers, are FDA-authorized and are being processed in a new CLIA-certified public health lab in our Science and Engineering Hall. We are conducting tests on both the Foggy Bottom and Virginia Science and Technology campuses, thanks to the many expert faculty, students, and staff in our schools of public health, medicine, and nursing.

Since we began testing on August 16, and through September 11, we conducted 7,308 tests. Nine people have had positive test results. All of our positive tests so far have been for “return-to-campus” tests from the Foggy Bottom campus and VSTC. The rates of positive results among our returning students are consistent with the transmission that was occurring across the country among young people. Identifying and isolating these positives no doubt helped to prevent transmission on our campuses.

Over the past week (September 5 - 11) we saw a very low case positivity rate—the percentage of cases that have been positive—of 0.02 percent.  This figure is well below the national seven-day positivity rate of 5.2 percent for tests reported to public health. Although the rate of positive results among our returning students is consistent with transmission across the country, unlike several of our peer institutions to date we have no evidence of COVID-19 transmission among our on-campus population.  By monitoring this rate daily, we can watch for upticks in transmission on our campuses. 

To ensure transparency and to guide decision making on our operations, the dashboard will be updated daily and provide aggregate and daily testing numbers, results, and positivity rates.  Testing and results can be viewed by affiliation and by campus. In compliance with privacy laws, we do not disclose individual identifying information.

Throughout this semester, our testing operation and this dashboard will be critical components of our comprehensive public health response and monitoring efforts, and the dashboard will be publicly available on our COVID-19 website.

We also are continuing to gather information about the current spread of the virus and projections about its trajectory—both in the D.C. region and nationally—and how these factors and any local government limitations will affect our operations next semester.  There are too many uncertainties at this point to be able to provide an update.  While we continue to consider all options for the spring semester, we are actively pursuing efforts to support the safety of the campus community if we can begin to bring more of our community back to campus. We expect to provide an update on spring planning in mid-October and are aiming for a final decision about spring in early December.

In the meantime, we hope that your semester is off to a successful start and that you are finding new opportunities in virtual education, your research, and your work.  Please avail yourselves of the many ways to stay connected with each other.  We remain grateful to all those who have led the establishment and continued successful execution of our testing operation and public health protocols, and we thank our entire community for taking seriously our responsibility to keep one another healthy and safe. 

Sincerely,

Thomas LeBlanc, President
M. Brian Blake, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Lynn Goldman, Dean, Milken Institute School of Public Health
Scott Burnotes, Vice President for Safety and Facilities

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