As college students again begin to fill campuses in the Chattanooga area, the region is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases dominated by the highly-contagious omicron variant.
According to guidance for institutions of higher education from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last updated Dec. 29, the organization recommends universal masking indoors regardless of vaccination status in areas of substantial or high transmission.
As of Friday, more than 98 percent of counties in the United States met those standards, according to the CDC.
Here's a list of Chattanooga area colleges and their mask policies for the start of the 2022 spring semester as of Jan. 7:
Bryan College: Encouraged, not required.
According to Jen McKinney, director of marketing and communication, and the school's website, masks are encouraged, but not required at Bryan College.
Chattanooga State Community College: Encouraged, not required.
According to Nancy Patterson, vice president of college advancement and public relations at Chattanooga State, masks are welcome, but not required.
"We care about the health of our community, and while masks are optional on campus, due to the rapid rise of cases in our community, students, employees and visitors are welcome to wear one — especially when in confined spaces with others," she said in an email.
Covenant College: Required.
According to Communications Manager Lydia Berglar, masks will continue to be required at Covenant College.
"We will continue to require a well-fitting mask in the chapel and all classrooms and instructional spaces to begin the semester during the current surge of cases and will reassess at the end of January as we track local case counts," the guidelines state. "As a result of the transmissibility of the new variant, masks are recommended in other crowded indoor spaces during this current surge of cases."
Dalton State: Encouraged, not required.
According to Phil Schlesinger, director of marketing, Dalton State adheres to guidelines set forth by the University System of Georgia.
"Specifically, we strongly encourage all faculty, staff and students to get fully vaccinated (including the booster dose), wear a mask or face covering while inside campus facilities, wash their hands thoroughly, socially distance when possible, get tested and isolate if tests are positive for COVID-19," he said in an email.
Lee University: Not required, encouraged for unvaccinated.
Lee University has not updated its protocols for the new semester on its website, but according to its COVID-19 information page, as of Oct. 21, the school no longer required masks on campus but encouraged those who were unvaccinated to wear face coverings when indoors and near others.
Sewanee, The University of the South: Required.
According to its website, the university will be continuing its mask requirements from the fall semester.
"All students, employees and visitors must wear face coverings/masks over their nose and mouth when they are in public spaces inside all university buildings," the site reads. "While outdoors, masks are not required unless otherwise indicated by the university."
Southern Adventist University: Required.
Southern Adventist University will again be requiring masks on campus indoors.
"Southern is beginning the semester with masks required in all indoor spaces, with the exception of when eating, working in private space and in residence hall rooms," said spokesperson Janell Hullquist in an email. "We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust if necessary. Of course, we'll also continue to conduct isolation, quarantine and contact tracing."
University of Tennessee Chattanooga: Encouraged, not required, except for in a few settings.
According to UTC officials, masks are strongly encouraged indoors on campus.
"CDC approved face masks are strongly recommended inside all campus buildings except when actively eating or drinking and when actively exercising in the Aquatic and Recreation Center," the school's guidelines state. "This includes hallways and common spaces of campus residential facilities. We hope everyone will comply with this recommendation."
According to the UTC website, masks are only required in University Health Services, the Counseling Center and the Mocs Shuttle run by the CARTA Bus System.
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