Breaking: Courses will remain online for duration of spring semester, first Mercer student tests positive for COVID-19

Mercer University has made the decision to continue offering all courses online only, according to an email from President Bill Underwood Friday morning. 

The update comes after a series of communications regarding the university’s plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Underwood’s March 15 email, all instruction was to be delivered online until April 3. On or before April 3, the university committed to deciding whether or not to continue virtual learning until the end of the spring semester.

Most students from the Macon campus have returned home, but Underwood said that those who chose to remain on campus are allowed to stay.

“I have asked Residence Life to work with any student in need of staying on campus for some or all of the remaining semester and we will continue providing student services to those who remain,” he said.

As for students who chose to return home until April 3, they are not required to return to campus to retrieve their belongings until the end of the semester.

An email from Mercer Housing and Residence Life said students who choose to continue living on campus must register to remain on campus by March 31. For students who want to pick up their personal belongings before the end of the semester, instruction varies based on residence hall. 

Students will also be reimbursed for “unused board and university housing,” the email reads. This includes those who live in the Lofts. 

“You will receive further information once this plan is finalized, which requires careful analysis of financial aid implications,” Underwood said. 

Dining options will be limited due to the pandemic, said Associate Vice President of Auxiliary Services Ken Boyer in an email to students. The Fresh Food Company in the Connell Student Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for brunch and 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. for dinner. No other dining options are available, including Provision on Demand locations.

The university will host commencement ceremonies for graduating seniors, but they may not take place as scheduled. Underwood said that no decision will be made prematurely, and there will be updates by mid-April.

Underwood gave the Mercer community parting words of thankfulness.

“I remain incredibly grateful for the many expressions of grace and patience I have received from throughout the Mercer family, and I fully understand the expressions of frustration,” Underwood said. “Please be safe and healthy until I see you again.”

Following Underwood’s announcement, an email from Senior Assistant Vice President for Marketing Communications Rick Cameron told the community that a graduate student on Mercer University’s main campus in Macon tested positive on Friday for the novel coronavirus.

The student tested positive in Atlanta, where they are currently quarantined in their residential home “in satisfactory condition.”

The student has not visited the Macon campus since March 13, according to the email. They lived in an apartment off-campus with two roommates. The roommates, as well as a third student who was in close contact with the sickened student, are all enrolled in graduate programs.

Although they have shown no symptoms, these students will also be quarantined off-campus until April 2.

Cameron said that Mercer University is working with public health officials to identify anyone else who may have been exposed to the student while they were infectious.

To protect their privacy, no other information about the affected student was provided.

The United States now reports the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, according to CNN. That number sat at 100,013 on Friday evening.

As of 11:30 a.m. Saturday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 2,366 total cases of COVID-19 in the state. Of those, 617 people were hospitalized and 69 died. At least 11 cases have been confirmed in Bibb County.

Mercer students are encouraged to contact the Student Health Center hotline at (478) 301-7425 if they develop a cough or shortness of breath along with a fever. The hotline is available 24/7 whether the caller is on or off campus.

All Mercer communications can be found on the COVID-19 page on their website.

The Cluster will continue to report any developments with the university’s plans.