Mercer’s COVID-19 case numbers remain low throughout first month of spring semester


Image: Mary Helene Hall

Members of the Mercer community are directed to call Mercer Medicine at (478) 301-4111 or the Student Health Center 24/7 hotline at (478) 301-7425 if they begin displaying symptoms.

Four weeks into the spring semester, Mercer University continues to report relatively low rates of COVID-19 on its Macon, Atlanta and Savannah campuses.

In a weekly report released Friday, the university announced that it had conducted or received results from 1,298 tests over the previous seven days. Of those 1,298 tests, just 31 came back positive, indicating a positivity rate of 2.39%.

The week prior — between Jan. 22-28 — the university reported a similar positivity rate of 2.65%. Mercer conducted or received results from 1,434 tests during that time, and 38 came back positive.

Positivity rate measures the percentage of individuals who were tested and received a positive result. According to public health experts from Harvard University, a positivity rate between 3-12% indicates adequate testing of a population, while a positivity rate under 3% is considered a goal in curbing the spread of disease.

According to the New York Times, Mercer has reported a total of 402 positive cases over the course of the pandemic. It is one of more than 680 colleges and universities in the United States that has reported at least 100 cases since March 2020.

These numbers seem high — however, Mercer is one of just a handful of universities nationally that conduct COVID-19 tests on-site, and the school has recently made surveillance testing mandatory. On-campus tests and surveillance testing initiatives both increase the number of tests conducted and, therefore, the number of asymptomatic cases detected and reported.

What is more important than the number of cases is the rate of positivity. Because Mercer’s positivity rate falls below the 3% threshold that indicates the curb of disease transmission, the overall spread of COVID-19 remains low on its campuses.

The spread that does occur at Mercer appears most concentrated in Macon, according to Mercer’s weekly reports. Between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, 13 students and three faculty or staff members on the Macon campus tested positive for COVID-19. The week before, 22 Macon students and six faculty or staff members tested positive.

The Savannah campus has reported the lowest rates of COVID-19 since Mercer began releasing data in the fall semester. Between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, no one on the Savannah campus is reported to have tested positive for the disease. Just one student tested positive the week before.

In Atlanta, 11 students and four faculty or staff members tested positive within the last seven days, according to Friday’s report. Those numbers rose slightly compared to the week before, during which time seven students and two faculty or staff contracted the coronavirus.

Mercer has reported only one hospitalization due to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. One student was hospitalized over winter break prior to the start of the spring term. It is unclear which campus the student attended.

Members of the Mercer community are directed to call Mercer Medicine at (478) 301-4111 or the Student Health Center 24/7 hotline at (478) 301-7425 if they begin displaying symptoms. Students who are enrolled in a course in which a student or instructor has tested positive will receive an email notifying them of their risk.