May 2020

May General Meeting with David Farris

Photo by Creative Services/George Mason University

David Farris, executive director, Safety and Emergency Management, joined the Staff Senate on May 13 for an hour long session to address some of the safety concerns from staff as we navigate these uncertain times. Thank you to Mr. Farris for providing some answers and updates, and to those who were able to attend virtually during the session. If you were not able to attend the session, you may view the recording.

Mr. Farris referenced the Patriot Tiger Team report. You can find a copy of that report, here.

Mr. Farris was able to address some additional questions following the session. Below are some additional responses.

Q, Testing: Is there a plan to test Mason personnel (antibody testing included)?

A: We are talking about this but there is a shortage of testing, testing is a lagging indicator, our population is very large which creates challenges regarding processing time, how do we enforce this, what frequency, who gets testing, etc.  I have been on numerous calls with other institutions and we are all working on how to incorporate testing into our return to campus plans.


Q, Positive COVID cases/Tracing,: What will our plan be if someone gets COVID on campus and what is our obligation if we do not feel well and are working on campus? Testing? Tracing?

A:  Students and employees will continue to follow our current guidance, don’t come to work or school if you are sick and if you think you are sick leave campus, report your illness to the university, and the university will conduct contact tracing to determine if others need to be notified if they were potentially exposed.  We will close areas/offices as necessary and we will arrange cleaning for that space.


Q, Dorms Reopening: Do you expect to open dorms in the fall?

A: Yes but with reduced occupancy to create safer conditions for our students there are plans to have a 1:1 or 2:1 student to bathroom ration and individual rooms.


Q, Staff Return to Campus: Did I understand correctly, that regular staff members will not return to work on campus until August?

A: Yes, our current tentative timeline suggests that most employees will not return until August, however we are still expect to mandate telework to limit face to face operations which will reduce the number of employees expected to return to campus.


Q, Volunteers Needed:Do you need any volunteers to help with all these things like placing signs?

A: Possibly, we are working on how this will be rolled out.  I will be happy to reach out the Staff Senate if help is needed.


Q, Cleaning and Sanitation: How effective is cleaning spaces when there are dirty supplies (buckets of used solutions and rags) in the rooms overnight instead of disposing immediately?­, ­As for sanitizing, we cannot get cleaning supplies from the VDC or anywhere.  What do you advise.­

A: Leaving dirty supplies behind does not necessary pose a health threat but it should be disposed of properly and obviously between use and we will emphasize this with our housekeeping staff.  We are using EPA approved disinfectants.  We are working with purchasing to purchase cleaning and protective equipment. Departments will not be allowed to procure these items on their own to provide consistency across campus and leverage the institution’s buying power.


Q, Workspace Sharing:    What about spaces where shift workers are? I work in a space for a few hours and then my supervisor takes over — is it safe to do that? ­

A:  Possibly, and we are working on process to approve departmental plans over the summer to evaluate these conditions and make sure precautions are appropriate. What we recommend/require is that offices consider altering work schedules to prevent this from occurring, for example adjust work schedules to avoid shift work, reduce service hours to avoid shifts, provide alternate locations for services so that shift work, etc.


Q, HVAC Spread:   How is the University addressing some of the reports of the virus being airborne? Basically that it can spread through the HVAC.­

A:  Facilities Management and EHS are looking at the research and working on a process to assess our HVAC systems to determine what actions should be taken.


Q, Negative Pressure Rooms: ­Are any of the rooms negative pressure?­  ­Can some of the spaces be converted to negative pressure to contain any possible outbreaks?­

A:  Our laboratories are negative pressure, converting other spaces to negative pressure is a challenge. Where we discover issues with HVAC systems that might create a unsafe environment we would likely close that space rather than convert the space, there are issues with cost, timing, engineering, etc. that make this prohibitive.


Q:  Mason Shuttles/CUE Bus/Vanpools:  ­Are car pools and shuttles going to be regulated to meet social distancing requirements?­ ­Transportation is always a concern. What’s being done for the shuttles and the CUE buses?­  Some staff use vanpools via Enterprise.  On our vanpool pre-COVID-19, we had anywhere from 2-6 people in a minivan (Dodge Grand Caravan). Just concerned/curious what that might look like when we start returning to work.­

A:  We have a plan to limit occupancy on shuttles to promote physical distancing.  vanpools should not be used and we are discussing ways to support employees that utilize this service.


Q, Space:  ­Are you looking at the use of previously non-classroom space for classroom use? For example, large conference rooms, the HUB ballroom or for very large lectures using the concert hall or EagleBank Arena? ­

A: We are looking at all spaces that might serve as classrooms to include meeting rooms, conference rooms, and event venues.


Q, On-campus Events:  My department hosts events that involve food — will those be canceled for the foreseeable future?­

A: Events are cancelled through August 8 and will likely be restricted/cancelled in the fall with exceptions granted by an Event Exceptions Committee currently in place.  I suspect that the Governor’s Executive Order will continue to prohibit gatherings into the fall but the institutions plans will align with public health guidance and requirements from the state that are in effect next fall.