Mercer University updates mask guidelines

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Image: Lauren Rich

Lucia Gutierrez wears a mask in the University Center.

Mercer University updated their COVID-19 policies surrounding face masks Aug. 24. While Mercer first put into place a mask requirement during its second summer session, the policy was expanded in mid-August after fall classes began.

“The updated mask policy includes additional details on where and when masks should be worn as a means of providing clarification for students, faculty and staff to maximize compliance with the policy,” Senior Vice President for Marketing Communications Larry Brumley said in an email to The Cluster.

The original policy, sent out in July, did not specify what kind of masks were acceptable or how users would be required to wear them. The updated policy now specifies that all individuals on-campus are required to wear masks that cover their nose, mouth and chin. 

Citing scientific consensus showing that not all face coverings are effective at slowing COVID-19, the policy outlines that masks themselves must be three-layer cotton masks, disposable surgical masks or enclosed masks with transparent panels. 

Mercer’s policy does not consider folded bandanas, gaiter masks or knitted masks to be acceptable face coverings. On top of that, the new policy says that masks featuring exhalation valves or vents are not allowed unless those valves are covered by another layer of cloth.

Sinjae Hyun, an engineering professor at Mercer University, said in an email to the Cluster that the filtration efficiency — the percentage of aerosol or droplets collected in a facemask — for household materials, including cotton fabrics and N95, ranges from 5% to 97%. With this, the higher the percentage the better. This means their effectiveness at preventing the spread of COVID-19 varies. 

He specified that a N95 mask collects 97% of droplets, a cotton mask collects 10 – 60% depending on the thickness and number of layers, and polymer facemasks collect 5 – 30% depending on the thickness and number of layers. 

The percentage of droplets not caught by the mask then disperse into the air, which means that a person with COVID-19 could still spread the disease if the filtration efficiency is not high enough.

Hyun noted that there is no perfect mask, but he said that it’s important to wear a good one. The fit, he said, matters a lot too.

“If you don’t wear your facemask appropriately, the efficiency is going to be lower and it does not protect you well,” Hyun said. “Therefore, physical distancing as well as wearing (face masks) are the most appropriate combination to protect us from the spread of COVID-19 in [the] Mercer University community as well as local communities.”

Mercer’s updated policy says that refusal to wear a mask is considered a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and will be reported to the Office of Student Affairs. Employees who don’t comply will be reported to their immediate supervisor or Human Resources.

“Mercer’s policies, procedures and plans relative to COVID-19 continue to evolve as the university receives new guidance from infectious disease experts in the School of Medicine as well as from local, state and federal public health officials,” Brumley said.

For additional details on Mercer’s COVID-19 policy and response, visit their coronavirus webpage