Update on Facilities

August 28, 2021

Dear Members of the GW Community:

As we welcome more students, faculty, and staff to our campuses, I write to provide you with an important update on our continued efforts to ensure that all GW buildings are safe to occupy.

We remain committed to our multi-layered approach to health and safety.  Our vaccination mandate, indoor mask requirement, testing and contact tracing, and ongoing monitoring of the pandemic are the primary ways we continue to support the health and safety of our community.  In all our efforts, we are fortunate to benefit from the expertise of internal and external safety, public health, and medical experts.

In addition to these primary efforts to ensure campus health and safety, we are engaged in an ongoing effort to optimize air handling within our GW buildings as a secondary mitigation measure.  Over the past year, we have proactively assessed and updated our heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems across our campuses.  In describing this work in June, we made statements about our buildings’ alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) for ventilation, filtration and air exchange, as well as about the installation of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

I understand that there have been questions about these statements.  We did not intend for this to be interpreted that the work is complete.  In updating our community on our efforts in June, we did not provide sufficient detail and adequate context regarding our actions.  As we have all experienced, life in a pandemic is fluid and constantly changing. At this point, I want to clarify the extensive work completed to date and our work in progress. We continue to augment our building systems as the pandemic and corresponding guidance changes. We sincerely apologize for any confusion and will strive to provide more transparency moving forward.

The CDC provides recommendations and ASHRAE offers guidance to review air handling systems to maximize performance and contribute to the layered approach to reduce exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  These recommendations and guidance offer a range of actions based on the capability of the system. There are no government or industry regulations related to SARS-CoV-2 and air quality.

GW has followed these processes to assess and optimize HVAC systems in our facilities.  Air handling varies in each building; for example, buildings with older HVAC technology do not have centrally managed or automated controls which can limit air handling capabilities as the environment changes. 

However, the HVAC systems in our facilities are fully operating as originally designed, have been placed on a proper maintenance schedule and continue to be augmented with additional filtration capabilities.  We are in the process of installing additional MERV-13 or equivalent filtration in buildings that can support that level and portable HEPA filters in classrooms and residential lounges in buildings that cannot. We will then work with faculty and staff in buildings without MERV-13 or equivalent filtration to identify additional high-occupancy spaces where a HEPA filter is appropriate. We expect to complete this work in the next two weeks and will provide updates on our progressWe appreciate the engagement and want to emphasize that even as we continue to enhance our protection with additional safety measures, all buildings are safe to occupy.

As we continue to make updates to our facilities, we will be led by internal and external experts and all relevant recommendations and guidance from OSHA, CDC and ASHRAE.  To provide additional reassurance to our community, we will compose a committee of qualified experts from the Faculty Senate, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Milken Institute School of Public Health and our Environmental Health and Safety team. This committee will work collaboratively with the Facilities team and external experts to evaluate our HVAC optimization efforts to date and vet additional recommendations as the pandemic continues to evolve.

Our approach to health and safety has always been to provide several layers, and with our vaccination mandate, indoor mask requirement, testing, improvements to our facilities, and continued monitoring of the pandemic, we are supporting a safe return to campus this fall.

Sincerely,

Scott Burnotes
Vice President for Safety and Facilities