Masks are no longer required to be worn indoors by any Mercer students, faculty or staff effective Thursday, according to an email to students Wednesday afternoon from university President Bill Underwood.
This replaces the previous mask protocol for the spring semester in which masks were required in all indoor common spaces, but not required while individuals were eating, drinking, exercising, or working or studying alone.
Professors are now unable to require masks to be worn within their classrooms, according to Vice Provost Kelly Reffit. They can, however, require masks in their individual offices when meeting with students.
The email states that "over 90%" of students, faculty and staff have been vaccinated, although it is unclear if that represents those who have received a full series of a COVID-19 vaccine. For Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, that is two shots, and one for Johnson & Johnson.
This sudden change in Mercer's mask protocol comes just a few days after states and communities across the U.S. are lifting mask mandates due to a decrease in cases.
“While we’re not where we all want to be yet, we’re encouraged by the dramatic declines we’re seeing in cases and hospitalizations nationwide,” said White House Covid response coordinator Jeff Zientz during a briefing last week, according to CNBC.
There are about 84,000 new cases per day on average in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, down from the high of more than 800,000 daily cases in January.
In Georgia, there have been 23,832 cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, according to the Georgia Department of Health. Bibb County has had 184 cases in the last two weeks.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases on Mercer's campuses is no longer publicly available, as the university stopped reporting cases prior to the start of the spring semester.
"Of course, anyone who chooses to wear a mask on campus for their own protection is welcome to do so," the email states. "But until further notice, this will be a matter of individual choice in every setting except individual faculty offices, where faculty may require anyone visiting their office to wear a mask."
Students in health sciences programs "may" also be required to wear masks in clinical settings. The university clarified in an email to students Thursday that masks are still required at the Campus Health Center.
Updated Feb. 24 at 11:10 a.m. to reflect the university's response to questions from The Cluster.
Mary Helene Hall ‘23 is a journalism and women’s and gender studies student who has worked for The Cluster throughout her time at Mercer. She spent the summer and fall semester of 2021 as a reporting intern at AL.com, Alabama's #1 media site, covering a variety of topics including politics, crime and culture.