For students returning to campus this fall, Mercer's COVID-19 policies for the upcoming semester will look familiar.
"In just a few days we will begin Mercer University’s 190th academic year," an email sent to students from the University Monday afternoon states. "We are looking forward to classroom, lab, residential life and co-curricular experiences that resemble life before COVID-19."
The University is continuing to prohibit faculty from requiring students to wear masks in their classrooms — a decision made mid-semester last spring.
The decision to wear a mask will be a "personal decision," and masks will not be required in any University facility, according to the email.
Additionally, a new isolation policy was published by the University detailing what should happen when a member of the Mercer community tests positive for COVID-19.
Both employees and students who test positive will be required to isolate for at least 5 days regardless of vaccination status, according to the policy on Mercer's website. If symptoms worsen or new symptoms appear within that 5-day period, the required duration of isolation increases.
Students residing in on-campus housing — including the Lofts properties — are encouraged to go home to recover. They may, however, isolate themselves in their own room, regardless of if they share a room with another student.
"In some situations, the student can't go home," Vice Provost Kelly Reffitt said. "For example, for international students, it's not practical for students to fly home for five days and come back."
Reffitt said that roommates will be notified if a student tests positive for COVID-19.
"Then if that roommate has questions or concerns, then the healthy, negative student would talk to res life about the best situation," Reffitt said. "We don't want the other roommate to feel penalized in any way by being in the same room with a positive student."
Students are only permitted to leave their room to seek medical care and pick up meals while wearing a mask.
Students who are isolating are instructed to distance themselves from their room and suitemates. All residents, both COVID-19 positive and negative, should wear a mask inside the residence when possible.
In order for the Campus Health Center to monitor students in isolation, a "Bear Check," a method for COVID-19 positive students to report their symptoms online, must be completed by the student during each day of isolation by 1 p.m.
"If there are significant concerns, then Mercer Medicine will call the student and then make a decision on next steps," Reffitt said.
Students may not complete isolation until cleared by Mercer Medicine or the Campus Health Center. Mercer Medicine must also clear COVID-19 positive employees before they return to work on campus.
"I think you'll see that's pretty common now, is that universities aren't having isolation spaces on campus," Reffitt said.
Faculty members will continue to be notified when a student tests positive for COVID-19, and students are instructed to work with their professors to arrange academic accommodations during isolation. Professors will be notified when students in isolation are cleared to return to class.
Mercer Medicine on the Macon and Atlanta campuses will continue to administer vaccines and PCR tests, the email states. The cost for a PCR test without insurance coverage is $90.
"Across the country, insurance companies aren't covering COVID tests unless the patient is symptomatic or has had significant exposure," Reffitt said.
The University will cover testing costs for students going abroad for academic programs — such as Mercer on Mission — according to Reffitt.
Students will not be required to be vaccinated to attend class or participate in activities, meaning this year's crop of freshmen may not have necessarily gotten the COVID-19 shots.
Health sciences students will continue to be required to be vaccinated.
"The University strongly encourages students to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations to better resist infection," Mercer's website states.
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 has held internships at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AL.com, where she covered a variety of topics including politics, crime and culture.