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Editorial: Universities should serve as laboratories for COVID-19 best practices
Higher Ed and COVID-19

Editorial: Universities should serve as laboratories for COVID-19 best practices

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Robots

A fleet of robots stood on the George Mason University campus in Fairfax in January 2019. The technology has helped deliver contactless meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the fall 2020 semester, colleges and universities across the commonwealth and nation have grappled with how to resume schooling while also keeping the coronavirus under control.

Much attention has been focused on case outbreaks, behaviors that might drive community spread, and fears and doubts about how higher education can manage residential living and in-person classes amid the pandemic.

What about the success stories? Universities should serve as laboratories for COVID-19 best practices and George Mason University (GMU) is a great case study to start with.

With more than 51,000 students and employees, GMU is the largest public research institution in the commonwealth, The Washington Post reported on Sunday. But this past week, Gov. Ralph Northam visited GMU to praise its Fairfax campus for holding an “enviable” positivity rate. While Northam did test positive for COVID-19 shortly after his visit to GMU’s Fairfax campus, university officials released a statement this past Friday, saying: “The governor was on campus for a short time on Tuesday, wore a mask during his entire visit and came into close contact with a very small group of individuals.”

Outside of the governor’s recovery, which we hope will be smooth, the school’s data dashboard shows that from Aug. 17 to Sept. 24, 7,286 students were tested and only 45 were positive. Among 765 employees tested, only 15 had contracted the virus.

“There is no silver bullet,” GMU President Gregory Washington told The Washington Post. “You’ve got to do a lot of different things and you’ve got to do all those things relatively well.”

Washington, who assumed the role of university president in July, has impressed us early with his steady hand. Some of GMU’s tactics have been deployed in other situations, such as aggressive testing and a 14-day self-quarantine requirement before returning to campus. GMU’s sizable population of students attending online classes might have helped. But Washington and his team also employed unique ideas, like using robots to make food deliveries from on-campus eateries.

We know that campuses across the commonwealth have cited their role in conducting meaningful research as a key reason why they had to reopen. That includes ideas that can help safely resume schooling and other elements of life amid the coronavirus. We’re pleased to see GMU among the laboratories piloting solutions.

Chris Gentilviso

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