In May, as Georgetown McDonough School of Business prepared to close out an unprecedented year of remote learning, Dean Paul Almeida lauded students, faculty, and staff in a message that contained a long list of the school’s accomplishments amid the coronavirus pandemic, including recruiting the most diverse incoming class in school history and developing and launching a new MS in Business Analytics program. Looking ahead, Almeida wrote that he was “filled with hope and excitement for all we will be able to accomplish in a post-pandemic world.”
The reality that such a world may be as far off as ever has now hit home for the Georgetown community. As Covid-19 cases spike around the United States, an unnamed MBA admit in attendance at a July 28 on-campus orientation event for McDonough’s incoming full-time cohort has tested positive for the virus, leading the school to send frantic messages to other attendees to monitor their symptoms and plead with them to get tested and continue to follow safety protocols.
“We wanted to inform you,” the school wrote to one attendee on Sunday (August 1), “that we were recently notified that a MBA student who has tested positive for COVID-19 was in Classroom 340 of the Hariri Building on July 28th during new student orientation, at the same date and time that you had spent time there.
“We cannot ascertain how closely you were exposed to that individual, but if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to quarantine. Public health guidance advises fully vaccinated people to self-monitor for symptoms for 10-14 days following 7/28/21. Please get tested 4-5 days following this potential exposure (sometime between August 1st – 2nd) even if you have been recently tested, and please continue to wear a mask in public indoor settings.”
RETURNING TO REMOTE INSTRUCTION?
The MBA admit in attendance at the July 28 event shared the school’s message with Poets&Quants. It goes on to describe the school’s public health protocols and adds that those who have not been contacted by the Georgetown Public Health Care Navigation team do not need to quarantine or isolate, nor “take any additional action other than getting tested.”
“We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has created anxiety for many individuals in our community,” the school continues. “Please know that this information is being shared to keep you informed as we all work together to manage the spread of COVID-19.”
The attendee, who asked for anonymity from P&Q in exchange for sharing a private message, says the school seems to be inching back toward a plan for remote instruction. “I’m not looking forward to virtual classes at all,” he says.
However, it is unlikely Georgetown McDonough would go fully remote unless the situation became much more dire. The B-school prepared for hybrid and in-person instruction throughout 2020 and spring 2021, equipping classrooms with upgraded technology and plexiglass partitions, transforming larger spaces — like the school’s Fisher Colloquium and Lohrfink Auditorium — into classrooms that allow for social distancing, and ensuring it can handle the capacity of regular classrooms along social distancing requirements. The Hariri Building, where the July 28 orientation event took place, also has a new air filtration system to improve ventilation in the building. In addition, the university has equipped each building with ample hand sanitizer stations, and classrooms are cleaned between each use.
WHAT IS THE EXTENT OF THE EXPOSURE?
Georgetown McDonough is among the vast majority of U.S. and international business schools that plan to open for in-person instruction in a few short weeks. It is also among the roughly half that have announced a vaccination requirement for those attending classes on campus in Washington, D.C. The school’s MBA classes began in-person on August 2. According to the school:
“Following the guidance of Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Ranit Mishori and the school’s Public Health Advisory group, all Georgetown McDonough students, faculty and staff who will be on one of Georgetown’s campuses or in a university-owned or operated building in Washington, D.C., this fall must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Medical and religious exemptions will be granted in accordance with federal and local law.”
The questions that arise from the positive Covid test on the Georgetown campus: What is the extent of the exposure as far as Georgetown is aware? What safeguards were in place to prevent this and how did they fail — or is this evidence that they performed as anticipated? Will the school make any adjustments in future as a result? And are McDonough School’s plans for an in-person start to MBA classes this fall now in peril?
GEORGETOWN: SCHOOL’S COVID PROTOCOLS WORKED
Georgetown McDonough responded to P&Q‘s request for comment with this statement:
“On July 19, 2021, Georgetown shared fall public health protocols, including information on arrival testing, with our community, and these protocols are in effect. Select cohorts of students arrived early for orientation, including first-year MBA students, who began in-person classes Monday, August 2, as scheduled.
“As was communicated to students, a MBA student participating in new student orientation has tested positive for COVID-19. In following our Georgetown public health protocols, described in more detail below, the student tested for COVID-19. Upon notification of the positive test result, consistent with Georgetown protocols and CDC and DC Department of Health guidance, the student was asked to self-isolate, and several other students identified through Georgetown’s contact tracing process as being in proximity were asked to quarantine.
“All students on campus this fall are required to be fully vaccinated, unless Georgetown has granted a medical or religious exemption, and to complete a COVID PCR test upon arrival to campus. This test is designed to identify infections, including asymptomatic infections. Indoor masking has been and continues to be a requirement at Georgetown in all public spaces.
“Georgetown public health protocols stipulate that upon being notified of a positive test, an impacted individual student will be contacted by a Georgetown COVID Care Navigator for contact tracing, and will begin isolation. All potentially affected students and employees on campus would then be contacted by administrators and members of the Public Health team and provided with guidance consistent with the latest CDC recommendations, DC Department of Health guidelines and University protocols regarding quarantine and follow up testing. The University adheres carefully to these protocols and is confident in its processes.”
FULL MESSAGE FROM GEORGETOWN MCDONOUGH TO ATTENDEES OF A JULY 28 ORIENTATION SESSION
We wanted to inform you that we were recently notified that a MBA student who has tested positive for COVID-19 was in Classroom 340 of the Hariri Building on July 28th during new student orientation, at the same date and time that you had spent time there.
We cannot ascertain how closely you were exposed to that individual, but if you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to quarantine. Public health guidance advises fully vaccinated people to self-monitor for symptoms for 10-14 days following 7/28/21. Please get tested 4-5 days following this potential exposure (sometime between August 1st – 2nd) even if you have been recently tested, and please continue to wear a mask in public indoor settings.
The Georgetown Public Health Care Navigation team is aware of your vaccination status and has been in contact with those who need to quarantine or isolate to advise them of next steps. If you haven’t been contacted by the public health team or by contact tracers from the DC Department of Health, you do not need to take any additional action other than getting tested.
We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has created anxiety for many individuals in our community. Please know that this information is being shared to keep you informed as we all work together to manage the spread of COVID-19.
We can all continue to do our part by doing the following:
- Monitor your health. Note any new symptoms and let the public health team or Student Health know if you are experiencing any.
- Wear a mask over your mouth and nose whenever you are in an indoor public space, even if you are fully vaccinated.
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow, or tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
- Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces.
If you have additional questions, please email the university’s Care Navigation team: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any additional academic questions related to opening term classes, please contact your program advisor.