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Just a few months into 2020, as the pandemic swiftly moved to cover the globe, Mason accomplished the largest educational pivot in our history by moving all operations online in a week’s time. The following fall, we implemented our Safe Return to Campus plan, a prime example of Mason bringing together all our resources to create a framework designed specifically for our unique community.

But we didn’t stop with keeping just members of the Mason community safe and our operations running. All the while, we worked on solutions for the most pressing problem to face the nation and the world in modern times. Even after the pandemic is contained, the work won’t cease. We’ll be taking the lessons learned in 2020 and moving forward with our work in different ways, focusing on the ultimate goal of finding ways to sustain health in a changing environment in both the short and long term.

Healthy People Spotlight

Targeted Research Makes a Difference

Whether working on highly specialized research or casting a wide net to solve a larger problem, Mason is forging pathways on the road to a healthier future.

The saliva-based test developed by Mason researchers Ali AndalibiLance Liotta, and Virginia Espina allows Mason to increase our weekly surveillance and random COVID-19 testing from around 1,000 tests per week to a capacity of 10,000 tests per week in the spring semester.

A multidisciplinary team of George Mason University scientists developed the saliva test that allows for increased testing of faculty, students, and staff at Mason.

Healthy People Spotlight

Accelerating the Pace of Innovation

The Mercatus Center, under director Tyler Cowen, created the Fast Grants initiative to rapidly fund COVID-19-related research and has offered more than 130 grants through the fast-tracked program, which provides responses to applications within 14 days.

“I view COVID-19 as one of the major events of our lives, and everyday lives, jobs, and political order are at stake,” says Cowen. “The more quickly we can help researchers in the fight against COVID-19, the better off the whole world will be.”

Mason distributed the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the surrounding community at the Fairfax Campus. The Fast Grants initiative offered accelerated funding to COVID-19-related research.

Healthy People Spotlight

A Comprehensive Model of Care

Mason’s Center for Psychological Services has long been a resource for maintaining the mental health of the Northern Virginia community. In November 2020 the center established a COVID-19 Essential Workers Emotional Support Line, which provides an outlet for those affected most by COVID-19 to speak to a trained provider about stress, anxiety, depression, or grief—for free. The help line is staffed largely by Mason undergraduate psychology student volunteers, which is in keeping with the center’s goals.

Healthy People Spotlight

A Community Response to COVID-19

In response to the pandemic crisis, Mason moved to quickly and safely secure the health of our community while also continuing to offer the world-class instruction that our students have come to expect. Such an achievement didn’t come about overnight but is the direct result of the foundation in research, services, and innovative thinking that are the hallmarks of Mason’s dedicated faculty, researchers, staff, and students.

From the design of tools like the self-reporting COVID Health Check and non-invasive saliva test, to cutting edge COVID-19 research, to rethinking the ways we serve our campus community, leaders across Mason leveraged existing resources with unprecedented ingenuity to meet a public health challenge like none other.

Lance Liotta | Co-founder and Co-director, Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine

Lance Liotta leads a team that proved saliva can be used to detect both active and previous infections of COVID-19. Liotta and his team anticipate that these powerful antibodies could potentially be mass reproduced and used in a vaccine or treatment.

“We’ve been working on saliva testing for many years, and we thought ‘Let’s apply our expertise on this topic to this new challenge,’” Liotta says. “All the different parts of the Mason research ecosystem are bringing their expertise together for this worthy purpose.”

Lisa Park | Executive Director, Student Health Services

Lisa Park oversaw the university’s rapid pivot to telemedicine, COVID-19 testing, and case investigations and procedures. This work is what she and her team have trained for, but that didn’t make the task any less challenging. That’s why it’s even more important, she says, to give each other grace and patience, and that extends to her entire team. “We sink or swim together. This is a very contagious disease if you’re not taking the appropriate precautions.”

Shelby Adams | Student Body President

During a global pandemic that changed virtually all aspects of university life and a time of ongoing racial turmoil in the United States, junior Shelby Adams has become a positive force for change. By improving communications to students and leveraging social media to ensure diverse voices are heard, Adams has emerged as a true leader on campus.

“I try my very best to be a resource because I care about people and want people to feel like they have a place on this campus and feel as though they are supported,” she says.

Amira Roess | Professor and Epidemiologist, College of Health and Human Services

In addition to playing a crucial role in the overall planning of Mason’s successful Safe Return to Campus and the development of Mason’s COVID-19 online screening tool, Roess also advises other public and private organizations on how to safely resume operations. Her work focuses on how the virus works, including looking at immunity, infection, and reinfection.

“All of these are important to understand,” she says, “because they will inform how we move forward as we’re considering testing strategies and safe-to-work strategies in the context of this pandemic.”

Saskia Popescu | Assistant Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government

Mason alumna Popescu, PhD Biodefense ’19, is a go-to expert and consultant for hospitals, helping them prepare for mass biological events including COVID-19. She’s also played an invaluable role in educating policymakers and the public during the pandemic. Mason’s biodefense program prepared Popescu well for this line of work, she says, in part because of how it reaches across multiple specialties in a holistic manner.

“It’s never just coming at a global health security problem from one view,” she says. “You have to look at all these moving pieces and put together a mosaic to really understand what’s going on.”

Securing the Goal of Healthy People Requires Equal Access

The health of the human population is paramount to creating lasting change, but this work can only succeed in a just and equitable society. From equal access to health care and education, to protection from police brutality, and the expectation that justice be meted out via impartial processes and systems, no single element of basic human rights in America is untouched by racism. And while Mason has a stellar reputation as a diverse and inclusive institution, we’re still taking a hard look at ourselves and ways we can do better. Read on to find out more.