Live Updates: Tracking Omicron’s spread as in-person activities resume

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

As students head back to Foggy Bottom for a spring semester that will begin online, read the latest on Omicron’s impact at GW.

All in-person activities have resumed after an online start to the spring semester to curb the highly contagious Omicron variant’s spread.

The Omicron variant brought COVID-19 cases to record levels in D.C., but cases are now falling sharply after a peak last month. Officials opted to move classes online for one week, but in-person classes quickly resumed.

GW’s COVID-19 positivity rate had generally remained below 1 percent throughout the fall semester except for brief upticks, but cases spiked in the final days before winter break as Omicron began spreading in D.C. and on campus.

To reduce transmission, officials are requiring students to receive a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and undergo testing once every 15 days. Students with religious or medical exemptions to the vaccine requirement will test once a week.

Many indoor public venues in D.C., including restaurants and bars, have begun requiring proof of vaccination under a new citywide mandate.

As in-person activities resume, here’s the latest on Omicron’s impact:

Latest COVID-19 Data: Thursday, Feb. 3
Daily Tests: 1,001
Daily Positive Cases: 10
Seven-Day Positivity Rate: 1.01 percent

Source: GW COVID-19 Testing Dashboard

Jan. 31, 2022 at 1:12 a.m.
Inside GW’s COVID-19 testing lab
Nestled on the first floor of the Science and Engineering Hall, GW’s public health lab translates community members’ bi-weekly COVID-19 nasal swabs to online test results, generally in the span of 24 to 36 hours.

Working behind the scenes, a dozen technical staff members conduct, process and report up to 3,000 tests on a daily basis. The Hatchet met with the faculty spearheading the lab’s operations and took a tour of the space to see the workings of the system at the center of the University’s COVID-19 response.

From the H Street testing trailer to your Colonial Health Center portal, read how GW’s public health apparatus processes your COVID-19 test.

-Ishani Chettri

Jan. 31, 2022 at 1:12 a.m.
Student Lerner employees went without work while waiting for facility to reopen
Student employees at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center spent the month waiting for their cash flows to return at the sole campus facility that remained closed in Foggy Bottom throughout the month.

Lerner will reopen Monday, capping off a three-week-long stretch when student employees were unable to complete their usual shifts at the gym and questioned the future of their in-person work. Student employees could participate in virtual customer service-related training and in-person cleaning sessions to earn money during the closure, but availability was limited.

Before students returned to campus for the spring semester, officials originally announced that Lerner would reopen Feb. 1 as part of their plan to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Sophomore Claudia Blázquez, who works at Lerner as part of her Federal Work Study award, said she has felt concerned about not being able to work as she uses some of the money she earns to pay her tuition. She said GW should have communicated the announcement that Lerner would open on Jan. 31 instead of Feb. 1 earlier than just a few days before the change.

“I think the University could do a bit of a better job communicating with student employees,” she said. “But I think the staff at Lerner have done a really good job with talking to us, so it’s nice to have at least somebody communicate with us.”

-Caitlin Kitson

Jan. 31, 2022 at 1:12 a.m.
Officials record small uptick in Panhel recruitment numbers
Spring sorority recruitment participation remained at its lowest level in recent years during the Panhellenic Association’s second year of virtual recruitment.

About 275 students participated in formal recruitment, and 222 accepted bids this year – totals that are less than half of the recruitment numbers recorded in 2018, which preceded a multi-year decline heading into the pandemic. Panhel’s total participation and accepted bids increased by less than 3 percent from last year, as sorority recruitment numbers for the first year back to in-person classes have stayed around the pandemic levels of the last couple years.

Panhel and chapter leaders said they plan to host events and partnerships with other organizations like Students Against Sexual Assault. Chapters moved their recruitment agendas online in January after the University announced that in-person operations for sororities were canceled for the start of the spring semester.

-Abby Kennedy

Jan. 31, 2022 at 1:12 a.m.
Students continue community service efforts virtually amid disrupted campus operations
Junior Dilshad Dinshaw, the director of Creative Movement with Balance, peers into her computer sitting on the floor of the dance studio in the District House basement every Friday waiting for her class of local elementary school students to log on for their weekly dance lessons.

“It definitely has been more challenging during COVID-19 to run the organization,” she said in an email. “Trying to keep in contact with elementary students, parents and staff became extremely difficult without any in-person interaction. Students struggled to pay attention to the class over Zoom, and it was harder to attract as many GW Balance members to help teach the classes.”

Dinshaw is one of half a dozen students who said they have struggled to stay connected to the District community through volunteer work this year after much of their previous work relied on in-person interactions and face-to-face connections. Members of GW service organizations said they are still attempting to complete in-person service opportunities but have shifted to a hybrid method of volunteering this year in an attempt to continue to serve the District community.

-Abby Kennedy and Lauren Grauer

Jan. 27, 2022 at 2:25 p.m.
In-person gatherings to resume beginning next week as cases decline
All in-person activities will resume beginning Monday as GW’s COVID-19 caseload continues to decline, officials announced Thursday.

Athletic events will open to ticketed fans beginning Sunday, and campus facilities with public access will reopen to the public on Monday, officials said in an email. Classes had resumed in person earlier this month after officials moved the first week of the semester online, but administrators had held off on removing further restrictions amid a continued high number of coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant.

“We are able to take this action thanks to the collective efforts of our community members to keep one another healthy and safe,” officials said.

The Lerner Health and Wellness Center and the West Hall Fitness Center will also reopen Monday, and library study rooms will no longer be restricted to one occupant, the email states.

The loosened restrictions will allow fans to attend Sunday’s men’s basketball game against Fordham, which begins at noon. Club and intramural sports will also resume Sunday.

-Nicholas Pasion

Jan. 27, 2022 at 1:07 p.m.
D.C. extends indoor mask mandate, public health emergency
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday she is extending D.C.’s indoor mask mandate until the end of February.

The mandate, reinstated in December as cases began to surge with the spread of the Omicron variant, was set to expire next week, but Bowser said D.C.’s falling but still high caseload has necessitated the extension. Earlier this month, the District started to require proof of vaccination for entry to certain indoor venues, like restaurants, bars and gyms.

Bowser also extended the public health emergency – which would have expired Wednesday – until Feb. 15 to mitigate staffing shortages and other concerns at hospitals as they address a surge of patients. Although the number of cases has decreased since December, the order states hospitals are still under “stress” from the number of people seeking COVID-19 tests, treatment and ventilators.

-Lauren Sforza

Jan. 24, 2022 at 7:33 p.m.
Thousands protest COVID-19 mandates at National Mall
Thousands of protesters descended on the National Mall for a rally opposing COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates Sunday.

Demonstrators marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where they heard speeches from prominent vaccination skeptics, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a conspiracy theorist and the son of former U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy. Organizers hoped as many as 20,000 people would come to the rally, but only a few thousand turned out at the event, according to The Washington Post.

Protesters carried signs reading “No Vaccine Mandates” and “My Body, My Choice” while yelling “lock him up” in reference to President Joe Biden and his Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci. Some demonstrators said they feared their employers would fire or discipline them if they admitted to attending the rally or not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Every time you comply, you get weaker,” Kennedy said. “The hill that you’re going to die on is the hill that you’re on right now.”

-Daniel Patrick Galgano and Faith Wardwell

Jan. 24, 2022 at 2:56 a.m.
Isolation housing tops GW’s added spring COVID expenses, officials say
Officials have spent millions on pandemic-related costs over the past nearly two years, but with the Omicron variant elevating GW’s caseload, administrators now face an added expense of isolation housing for infected students.

Administrators expanded GW’s isolation housing this semester to the Yours Truly Hotel, where infected students isolate for 10 days at GW’s expense. A University spokesperson declined to provide the cost of the 250 hotel beds officials have reserved through Feb. 26, but Jared Abramson, the vice president for financial planning and operations, said the added cost is considerably smaller than the budget impact if students had not returned to campus this semester.

“The incremental expenses this year are far less material compared to the impact of not having a residential student experience early in the pandemic,” he said in an email.

When classes remained online last academic year, the associated loss in housing revenue helped drive a $180 million annual revenue shortfall that led to a swath of budget cuts, like layoffs and a temporary suspension of employee retirement contributions. Financial projections had estimated GW would lose $100 million in housing revenue alone as a result of online operations. GW eventually broke even last year after implementing the financial mitigation.

-Erika Filter

Jan. 24, 2022 at 2:55 a.m.
What’s New Buff and Blue: Music Venues Sustain Omicron Surge
On this week’s episode “What’s New Buff and Blue”, podcast host Ethan Valliath speaks with Jordan Grobe, the communications coordinator for the 9:30 Club, about the importance of independent music venues to D.C. life and how they persevered through the pandemic.

-Ethan Valliath

Jan. 24, 2022 at 2:55 a.m.
Supply chain shortages inflate prices, drain inventories at local restaurants
On-campus restaurants are facing product and labor shortages as the Omicron variant upsets the world’s supply chain, sending the costs of some items soaring.

A half dozen restaurant managers said labor shortages in the supply chain are minimizing menu item availability, inflating prices and limiting ingredient inventory. They said the shortages are the latest speed bump in what has been a difficult two years for restaurants since the start of the pandemic.

Jeremy Pollok, the managing partner of Tonic and a GW alumnus, said obtaining biodegradable straws, beers and signature menu items – like crab and chicken wings – has become more difficult and taken more time because of supply chain issues. He said even if items are easily accessible, Tonic has struggled to make sales at the same reasonable prices because of inflation.

“Certain beers we haven’t gotten in months, so it’s a little bit all over the place,” Pollok said in an interview. “Some things you just can’t get, and some things are just so expensive that you have to choose not to.”
Pollok said steeper costs have forced the restaurant to decide between increasing and maintaining prices on many items, which could dramatically cut margins into their profit during a challenging time for restaurants facing staff and item shortages.

-Aiden Orr

Jan. 24, 2022 at 2:55 a.m.
Inside the four-star hotel housing students with COVID-19

A four-star hotel is housing isolated students infected with COVID-19 this semester as part of GW’s latest investment in pandemic mitigation measures.

Yours Truly, a hotel located north of Washington Circle, has taken in between 15 and 25 students each day since the start of the semester, holding some of the more than 1,000 students who have tested positive for the virus this year, University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said. Students said despite hotel rooms with TVs, private elevators and queen-sized beds, $30 daily dining charges and logistical issues have hampered their stays in the hotel.

GW’s move to reserve 250 beds in the hotel until Feb. 26 is one of the University’s largest new investments as officials fight to contain the Omicron variant and keep classes in person.

“As spring 2022 approached, we were seeing that the Omicron variant was fast-spreading,” Nosal said in an email. “Planning for all scenarios, we increased our on-campus isolation capabilities, and we engaged in a contract with Yours Truly Hotel to provide extra capacity and flexibility.”

Students living in isolation at the hotel shared mixed reactions toward GW’s handling of their move-in and isolation process, with experiences ranging from anxiety-inducing to simple and easy.

-Zachary Blackburn

Weekly COVID-19 Data: Jan. 24-30
Tests: 9,814
Positive Cases: 157
Positivity Rate: 1.60 percent

Jan. 20, 2022 at 12:36 a.m.
Hall of Fame initiation postponed
The Hall of Fame Induction ceremony was postponed due to the current Omicron spike in D.C., the Athletic Department announced Monday

Athletic director Tanya Vogel said in a release that the department is still looking for a possible future date to host the induction ceremony and will update participants as the details are set. She said the department had considered an online event but had “quickly ruled it out” as officials thought it was unbefitting for the celebration.

“Unfortunately, however, we are going to have to delay when we celebrate this class in person, she said. “On account of the record caseloads and hot spot that Washington, D.C. has become – and with safety, both physical and emotional, top of mind – it has been decided that it is not prudent to host an in-person induction on February 4th.”

Associate Athletics Director Brian Sereno said this year’s Hall of Famers have been supportive of the University’s decision.

-Nuria Diaz

Jan. 19, 2022 at 1:33 a.m.
Free N95 masks available at COVID-19 test centers, 15 campus locations
Free N95 masks are now available to all students, faculty and staff across campus, officials announced in an email Friday.

GW community members can pick up their N95 masks at the University’s COVID-19 testing centers and 15 other spots campus like the University Student Center, Gelman Library, District House and the Smith Center. Officials said they encourage everyone to wear N95 masks, which will protect them from aerosol transmission of the coronavirus, especially while indoors.

Other campus locations with available N95 masks include the Milken Institute School of Public Health, the School of Media and Public Affairs, the Science and Engineering, Lerner and Ross halls, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and the Elliott School of International Affairs, according to GW’s website. Students can also pick up masks at the GW Police Department’s Community Policing Center, the Key Depot, the Mount Vernon Campus Academic Building and on GW’s shuttles.

-Michelle Vassilev

Jan. 18, 2022 at 3:06 a.m.
Wrighton spends first days in office holding introductory meetings, focusing on pandemic
Interim University President Mark Wrighton, who moved into the F Street House Friday as GW’s third president to reside on campus, said he starts his morning at 4:45 a.m. – part of his new daily routine on the Foggy Bottom Campus.

After exercising, Wrighton said his workday starts at 8 a.m. with daily pandemic-related meetings with GW’s Medical Advisory Group, which has decided on major moves like the University’s return to in-person classes Tuesday.

“I’m really very proud of the work that so many people are doing to assure that we are safe and healthy,” Wrighton said in his first interview as president.

Wrighton said last week’s remote instruction had gone “very well,” but with in-person social events and other gatherings still restricted through at least Jan. 31, he is “anxious” for the normal college experience to resume.

“The good news is that the positivity rate right now seems to be on the decline in the D.C. environment, and our own testing program is really top notch,” he said, pointing to his recent negative test result from GW’s in-house lab.

-Isha Trivedi and Zach Schonfeld

Jan. 18, 2022 at 3:05 a.m.
Rise of Omicron variant creates obstacles for D.C. Restaurant Week
As the city faces a surge in COVID-19 cases and staff and supply shortages threaten local businesses, some local restaurants remain hopeful that Restaurant Week discounts will boost their sales.

This year’s D.C. Restaurant Week, which runs from Jan. 17 to Jan. 23, happens to coincide with the implementation of a vaccine-card mandate, a regulation some restaurants said they wish had come sooner. Amid numerous permanent restaurant closures, still more than 200 restaurants are expected to participate in the city-wide food event while adapting to the mandate.

Some restaurants have felt the strain of the rising spread of the Omicron variant and closed their services prior to Restaurant Week to prepare for the busy upcoming events. Bresca, a modern French restaurant near Logan Circle, closed for two weeks at the start of January to prepare to welcome an influx of customers during Restaurant Week.

-Clara Duhon and Rhyma Asim

Jan. 18, 2022 at 3:05 a.m.
Students delay campus return over concerns of COVID-19 transmission, shutdowns
Concerns over catching COVID-19 and speculation that GW would ultimately send students home led some students to delay their return to campus.

Many campus residents returned during the weekend of Jan. 8 and 9, when they waited for rapid COVID-19 test results on the third floor of the University Student Center – which filled with about 90 students at a time – and quarantined until receiving two negative COVID-19 test results. Some students decided to tune into the first week of classes from home to avert potential infection and avoid the crowds in case officials decided to clear community members from a campus with cases at an all-time high.

Anika Sharma, a freshman majoring in public health, said she delayed her drive from Virginia to campus until GW resumed in-person classes because she was concerned officials would shut down campus during the first week of the semester. She said she was worried about contracting the coronavirus from the large number of students traveling back to campus and exposing family members after returning home to isolate.

“​Why would I risk myself, and then in the case that we get shut down, why would I bring my germs home, and my parents are high risk,” she said. “I live with my grandfather, so why would I do that?”

-Abby Kennedy and Leo Kehagias

Jan. 18, 2022 at 3:05 a.m.
What to do if you test positive for COVID-19
There’s an overwhelming flurry of information on the internet about what to do if you test positive for COVID-19 – we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know if you end up contracting the virus.

GW has put out a specific set of guidelines on how to manage your diagnosis, but finding and keeping track of all of this information can be challenging. To help you out, I’ve compiled the University’s guidance on what to do once you’ve tested positive for COVID-19, along with some of my own advice having contracted the virus over winter break.

-Molly Kaiser

Jan. 18, 2022 at 3:05 a.m.
Faculty brace for high COVID-19 caseload as students return to classrooms
Although officials expect high rates of COVID-19 infections this spring following record-high caseloads at GW earlier this month, faculty said the University’s guidelines will protect community members as in-person classes resume this week.

Professors said they will offer “reasonable accommodations,” like increased hybrid class discussions and recorded lectures for students who contract COVID-19 in the spring as the University braces for a surge in positive cases. Officials have repeatedly said they expect a “large number” of students to test positive for COVID-19 because of the highly contagious Omicron variant, but more than half a dozen professors said they feel safe and prepared to return to in-person instruction because of the GW’s layered COVID-19 mitigation approach.

Interim University President Mark Wrighton said in an interview last week that no community members had severe illness from COVID-19 at the time, and officials were only aware of one community member who had been hospitalized during the fall. The individual was discharged after three days, he said.

–Nicholas Pasion and Sophia Goedert

Weekly COVID-19 Data: Jan. 17-23
Tests: 9,008
Positive Cases: 238
Positivity Rate: 2.64 percent

Jan. 12, 2022 at 11:54 p.m.
NCAA revises COVID-19 guidance for winter sports
The NCAA updated its COVID-19 guidelines for winter sports, the association announced in a release Friday.

The NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group updated its definition of “fully vaccinated” to include both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in addition to the required booster for each shot, or if an individual has tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days. NCAA officials included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent recommendation of a five-day quarantine period with five additional days of masking around others for anyone who tests positive but doesn’t experience symptoms.

–Nuria Diaz

Jan. 12, 2022 at 2:07 p.m.
Officials reassert plans to return to in-person classes next week
The University affirmed its plans to resume in-person learning next week as COVID-19 cases in D.C. remain high and the spring semester gets underway.

Officials said in an email to the GW community Wednesday that in-person classes will resume on Tuesday, research and lab spaces will be able to return to full operations and University employees should return to their normal schedules from before the virtual period. GW will distribute N95 masks on campus to provide community members access to more effective masks, and officials are “strongly” encouraging members to wear N95 or KN95 masks or double-mask, the email states.

“Our Medical Advisory Group continues to monitor the rates of COVID-19 transmission on our campuses and locally, and we will provide any updates to you,” the email states.

In-person social gatherings will remain virtual or postponed, campus facilities like the University Student Center will be closed to the public and library access will be limited to students, faculty and staff. Athletic events will continue to be held without ticketed fans, and the Lerner Health and Wellness Center and West Hall Fitness Center will be closed.

Officials said they plan to resume in-person activities in a “phased approach” starting Feb. 1.

–Isha Trivedi

Jan. 11, 2022 at 10:02 p.m.
Bowser reinstates public health emergency
Mayor Muriel Bowser reinstated a public health emergency in the District Tuesday, allowing hospitals to better manage an influx in COVID-19 patients in light of recent staffing shortages.

The public health emergency lasts until Jan. 26 and allows hospitals to use out-of-state medical licenses and increase available staff. Bowser’s order is the city’s latest move to mitigate the effects of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread, which has continued to accelerate and limit public activity in D.C.

Bowser relaunched the city’s indoor mask mandate last month, and the District will start requiring proof of vaccination for entry to restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues Saturday.

“By declaring a public health emergency, the District and our healthcare partners can continue to respond expeditiously and safely to COVID-19 and its ongoing and changing impacts,” Bowser’s order reads.

–Zachary Blackburn

Weekly COVID-19 Data: Jan. 10-16
Tests: 11,665
Positive Cases: 569
Positivity Rate: 4.88 percent

Jan. 10, 2022 at 1:14 a.m.
GW prepared for ‘isolation-in-place’ strategy under heightened COVID-19 anticipation
Officials are prepared to implement an “isolation-in-place strategy” on campus if the number of positive COVID-19 cases exceeds isolation housing capacity, they announced in an email to residential students and families Thursday.

The email states the University reserved 250 beds at a nearby hotel to house students who must be “temporarily relocated” because of COVID-19 isolation during the spring semester. Administrators said they expect a “large number” of students returning from winter break to test positive for COVID-19, and they plan to ensure these students have access to medical care, course materials and dining resources while they isolate.

GW’s isolation housing is now five times larger than its capacity during the fall semester because of the new hotel space.

“We believe that the combination of our vaccine and booster mandates, routine testing and indoor mask requirement will help keep our community members protected from severe illness or hospitalization resulting from COVID-19,” the email reads.

–Nicholas Pasion

Jan. 8, 2022 at 6:20 p.m.
GW tightens spring residence hall guest policy as campus residents return
The University will restrict on-campus students from visiting other residence halls at the start of the spring semester, officials announced in an email Friday.

Students may only visit rooms in their own residence halls with a limit of one guest per room, but officials will adjust the policy in line with recommendations from its medical advisory team monitoring the pandemic, according to the email from Campus Living and Residential Education staff.

Officials said they encourage residents to return home to isolate for 10 days if they receive positive results from their arrival COVID-19 test at the student center, but students can also move into isolation housing on campus.

–Lauren Sforza

Weekly COVID-19 Data: Jan. 3-9
Tests: 6,931
Positive Cases: 690
Positivity Rate: 9.96 percent

Jan. 7, 2022 at 10:02 a.m.
Spring sorority recruitment turns virtual amid surge in COVID-19 cases
Spring sorority recruitment is taking place online this month as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the District.

Brian Joyce, the director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said in an email that officials consulted with leaders from the Panhellenic Association and “other stakeholders” to move recruitment activities online in hopes of limiting COVID-19 transmission among GW community members.

“The Fraternity and Sorority Life office will continue to prioritize the health and safety of all of our community members by following the guidance of GW, our state and local officials and health professionals,” he said in the email. “We will continue conversations with chapter and association leaders to advise best practices on safety protocols, and we will encourage flexibility in our spring plans.”

–Abby Kennedy

Jan. 6, 2022 at 6:43 p.m.
GW to keep 10-day isolation period despite shortened CDC guidance
Officials will not shorten COVID-19 isolation and quarantine protocols for community members who test positive even as the CDC shortened its recommended quarantine period last month.

Officials said in an email sent to the GW community Tuesday that they will not change GW’s current 10-day isolation period if a community member tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC announced last month that people who test positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms only need to isolate for five days instead of the previous recommendation of 10 days.

“Our Medical Advisory Group continues to monitor the rates of COVID-19 transmission in the D.C. region,” the email states. “At this time, we do not anticipate any changes to the guidance provided to you prior to winter break.”

–Lauren Sforza

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