Additional COVID-19 Guidance for Faculty Now that Classes are Underway

September 9, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

The semester is now fully underway, thanks to your efforts in preparing for a robust and engaging in-person instructional environment.  Our students are thrilled to be back on campus and learning in our classrooms and labs. I appreciate everyone being patient and flexible this semester as we work to establish a “new normal.”

Our Medical Advisory Group (a team of GW medical and health experts) continues to monitor and evaluate the latest data on COVID-19 transmission in our community as well as the local and national public health guidance in order to provide expert guidance and recommendations to the university.  For those who want to know more, the Onward plan and website are a great resource.

Nevertheless, the reality is that the Delta-variant of COVID-19 is highly transmissible, and with waning immunity, new and breakthrough infections are possible, even with our community’s extremely high vaccination rate. This may result in the need to accommodate students who miss class, provide additional direction with regard to masking, or otherwise respond if/when a student in your class has a positive COVID-19 test.

This memorandum provides you with some basic guidance in order to ensure that you are fully prepared for such scenarios.

Accommodating students who need to miss class.  The university has instructed all students, faculty and staff to refrain from coming onto campus or into classrooms if they have COVID-19 symptoms. It is important that everyone follows this guidance for the health of the community.  For this reason, we are likely to have more than the usual number of students who will miss class for legitimate reasons (e.g. international students who are still arriving, isolation following a positive COVID-19 test, quarantining for close contacts who have a vaccine exemption).  Students in these situations can and should expect that they will have access to the in-class materials that they missed because they were following the policy.

Please trust students who report a legitimate need to miss class.  If a student reports that they have a positive COVID-19 test and need to isolate, you do not need to verify medical documentation in order to excuse the absence. Students who are quarantined or have a positive COVID-19 test are told to inform their faculty immediately that they cannot attend class.  However, such students are also told that they are not required to disclose the positive test result or reason for quarantine.  Students experiencing symptoms are told to remain at home. It is important that you trust students who need to miss class because they are ill or adhering to our current campus health policies.

Please ensure that students who miss class for legitimate reasons are able to obtain access to the material they missed.  Make sure that you provide information on how such students can access the material they have missed on your syllabus or posted in Blackboard.  Faculty are encouraged to record their lectures so that they can be made available to a student who needs that content and to include the statement about the use of electronic recorded materials on your syllabus. If you are not recording, please indicate how you will provide this course content to the student in your syllabus and/or on Blackboard.  As a reminder, you can set up your class to automatically be recorded using Echo 360 by scheduling class lecture capture in Blackboard.  Here are the links: Enable Lecture Capture for your Classroom (PDF) (Video) and Limit Student Access to Recordings in Blackboard (PDF).

Please help students (and faculty) comply with the masking mandate.  Masks are required in all GW buildings.  This means that students in class and faculty, staff and students in public academic spaces should be masked.  Masks have been delivered to department offices, so if a student arrives to class and their mask is broken or they forgot a mask, you can send them to the nearest department.  You might consider having a mask or two with you in case a student comes without one. 

While faculty were quite concerned about students not wearing masks, we are hearing from some students that they are uncomfortable with the faculty members who remove their masks to lecture or are not wearing their mask properly (i.e., failing to cover the nose and mouth).  If you have chosen to remove your mask to lecture, please make sure to communicate with your students around the policy that allows for this (you can point them to the FAQ), and that you remain at least 6 feet away from the students.  You might also consider, if your students express their concerns to you, whether using a mask and microphone or voice amplification would be a better option.  If you feel that you cannot be heard in your class when masked because your class does not have built in room microphone, voice amplification devices are available from GWIT in Rome B102.

If you get sick, test positive for COVID-19 at GW, or have COVID-19 symptoms, do not come to campus.  Instead, you should contact Occupational Health at 202-677-6230.  You can also sign up for a symptomatic test.

If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or test positive for COVID-19 outside of GW, faculty should contact Occupational Health for guidance and the outside positive test or exposure should be reported here A healthcare provider and the CCST will follow up with you.  If you are on quarantine or isolation but feel able to work, you may conduct your class remotely from home.  If you are unable to teach your class, please contact your chair or program director. 

If a student in your class tests positive for COVID-19, the Campus COVID Support Team (CCST) handles all contact tracing and they will send those who have been traced as close contacts information on exactly what to do.

Please note that it is not your responsibility to inform the class.  When a GW student, faculty or staff member tests positive, they are immediately contacted by Colonial Health or Occupational Health to assess them for symptoms, ensure they get adequate healthcare, and inform them of how to go into isolation. They are interviewed by the Campus COVID-19 Support Team (CCST) to determine who their close campus contacts were in the past 48 hours.  CCST will in turn contact each one of those people. CCST will inform any confirmed close contact of whether and how to go into quarantine and the requirement for a symptomatic COVID-19 testing after the exposure (which varies according to vaccination status). 

Just because you are in a class in which someone tests positive for COVID-19 does not necessarily mean that you have been exposed.  Individuals may or may not have been exposed, since exposure requires that you have been in close proximity to the person (not just in the same classroom). If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, stay home, contact Occupational Health and schedule a symptomatic test in the medical portal.

Please note that it is possible that a student will tell a faculty member that the student tested positive but the faculty member and class might not be notified of an exposure.  This could happen because, in doing the contact tracing, the CCST learns, for example, that the student was not in that classroom in the relevant period, or that the student is able to identify those who would constitute close contacts in the classroom.  If you receive notification from a student, but the class is not similarly informed, you should not conclude that the contact tracing protocol is not working properly.  I encourage you to allow the CCST to do their jobs and to trust the process.

Finally, if your class is informed that a student in the class tested positive, that does not mean you must move your class to remote learning.  In this situation, vaccinated students and faculty will be instructed to get a COVID-19 test within 3-5 days and monitor symptoms. Vaccinated students and faculty do not need to quarantine unless they have symptoms. Unvaccinated students and faculty will be required to quarantine and get a test immediately after being identified and, if negative, test again in 4 days (on Day 5) after last exposure or immediately if symptoms develop during quarantine.

I hope that you find this guidance useful as you navigate this “new normal,” and I thank you for your sustained efforts to ensure that the university provides a safe and efficacious learning and research environment for our students.


Christopher Alan Bracey
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Law