Many Georgetown University first-year students spent the extended Thanksgiving break visiting the Washington, D.C. area and exploring Georgetown University’s campus despite a recent spike in D.C. COVID-19 cases.
As a result of a modified academic calendar, Georgetown scheduled an extended Thanksgiving break from Nov. 21 to Nov. 29. In past semesters, students only received two days of break. According to the university, the changes were made to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by limiting travel to and from campus.
However, the modified academic calendar gave off-campus first-years an opportunity to travel to the D.C. area and visit Georgetown’s campus.
Henry Chen (COL ’24), who had not visited the Georgetown campus since touring two years ago, met a group of six fellow students in D.C. over the break. Two of the students in the group were living on campus.
“I really felt like I was part of the Georgetown community when I was there,” Chen said in an interview with the Hoya. “For most of the semester, I still felt like a high school kid, with my high school friends, doing the same old stuff, just taking Georgetown classes. But actually going there with other college kids and seeing the place and being together really creates a sense of community that online can’t do.”
While Chen and his friends took precautions, Chen did not feel the COVID-19 pandemic had a large impact on their trip.
“On the train, you had to wear a mask and everyone was kind of separated,” Chen said. “When we walked around the city, we had the masks on and everything. When it was between the kids, we just kind of sat in a room and talked and stuff. Obviously there were precautions to take and it was concerning, but I think most of us kind of needed to travel and meet up in person because of Zoom fatigue and all that.”
Before the break, university officials sent a letter to on-campus students advising them on health and safety measures to take if considering travel. However, the letter did not mention anything about interacting with visitors.
Over Thanksgiving break, 26 people on or near campus tested positive for COVID-19, according to university records.
Despite an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases within the university community, Georgetown’s on-campus restrictions only limit students from inviting visitors into their dorms, according to a university spokesperson.
“Residents of University-owned housing are permitted to host in their assigned spaces only those students who are approved to live on campus, in groups of 10 or fewer, including the host(s),” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Although D.C. requires travelers coming from jurisdictions with more than 10 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people to get a negative test result at least 72 hours before visiting the area, Chen said he was not aware of that restriction and did not check COVID-19 travel restrictions before his trip.
Kathy Gong (COL ’24), who also visited D.C. with three of her friends, noted that D.C. did not enforce COVID-19 restrictions. (Full disclosure: Gong is a staffer in The Hoya’s Financial Operations Department.)
“We weren’t affected by any travel restrictions – D.C. does require a negative test within 72 hours of traveling (which we had) but we were never asked to show the results,” Gong wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Gong and her friends took several precautions, including getting tested before and after the trip, quarantining once they returned home and practicing social distancing and wearing masks during the trip, she wrote.
While the extended break was put in place to minimize travel, it did not affect Gong’s plans, she said.
“There’s a good possibility we still would’ve gone if Thanksgiving break was only Thursday/Friday; a few of us had classes on Friday and just went on Zoom in the hotel, so we probably could’ve done that for Monday as well if needed or shortened the trip to three days instead,” Gong said.
Even before break, there was a steady stream of visitors on campus throughout the semester, including both D.C. locals and Georgetown students from outside of the D.C. area, according to Alyssa Hirai (SFS ’24), who lives on campus.
“I would say every day I would see visitors on campus,” Hirai said in an interview with The Hoya. “There would be old people just walking every day, or people running through campus daily. Throughout the semester, I would see people flying in or visiting from outside of D.C.”
Despite the visitors, the frequency of COVID-19 tests required for on-campus students has made her feel safer living on campus, Hirai said.
“We have to test every week, so even if you were to meet people from off campus, since you get tested regularly and there is an app where you have to report your daily COVID symptoms, that helps with containing any type of possible spread.”