Three years ago, Emory University joined higher education institutions across the country in announcing that, after an extended spring break, classes would switch to online, marking the start of Emory’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that day, students have experienced countless cancellations and policy changes — some bolstered protective measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, while others relaxed regulations to regain a sense of normalcy as cases decreased.
Below is a timeline of the University’s approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 11, 2020: Emory extends spring break, announces switch to virtual classes
March 11, 2020 marked the first day of COVID-19’s influence on campus when students received an email from former interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Jan Love, who wrote that spring break would be extended to March 22, 2020 and all classes would transition to remote learning on March 23, 2020. Emory also maintained its indefinite suspension of official travel to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, according to the email.
Residence halls closed their doors for the rest of the academic year, forcing students to put their college lives on hold and return home, sparking concern among low-income and international students.
“I wouldn’t have anywhere to go, or the means to get there,” Adric Tenuta (21C) told the Wheel at the time. “Emory is the only institutionalized safety net that exists in my life at this point. If I’m not in class, I would be placed in further precarity.”
Matthew Nails (22C) recalled that alongside being sent home to Zoom classes, he had to deal with cancellations such as his planned concert choir trip to Germany and France.
“All the things that people were looking forward to also just were ripped up, rightfully so because this pandemic, but also it was difficult to do that and then just expect to jump right back in school after only having one additional week,” Nails said.
Although nobody could estimate the length of COVID-19’s impact at the time, the email marked the start of Emory’s three-year-long response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
March 12, 2020: Emory cancels on-site study abroad programs, directs students to return home
One day after the announcement of the first of many COVID-19 policies, Emory discontinued all on-site study abroad programs and instructed students to return home and continue their studies remotely. In addition to the decision to extend spring break and move classes online, the University cited former U.S. President Donald Trump’s 30-day travel ban on foreign nationals traveling from European countries as a reason for the change.
March 12, 2020: Varsity sports, intramurals cancel rest of season
Emory canceled the remainder of the intercollegiate competition and activities in the spring 2020 semester. Under the decision, the indoor track and field and men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams did not compete at their national competitions. The University also canceled all intramural programming for the rest of the spring semester.
Varsity swimmer Caroline Maki (23C) reflected on the day everything shut down in 2021, three days before the team was set to compete in their national meet, which left many of her teammates without closure. She said grief was the first emotion everyone felt.
“That was the first and only time that I’ve seen everybody on my team cry, including our coaching staff,” Maki said. “It was just really sad.”
March 19, 2020: University cancels all summer study abroad programs
Associate Dean of International and Summer Programs Sarah Gouzoules announced in a March 19, 2020 email that all University-sponsored travel was suspended, including summer 2020 study abroad programs. This followed the University’s decision to cancel all on-site spring 2020 study abroad programs.
March 22, 2020: Students to move out of residence halls, leave campus by March 22
Students were expected to return to campus to gather their items and move out by March 22, 2020. Nails, who was a sophomore adviser (SA) at the time, said being forced to uproot his life at college and return home was worrisome.
“A lot of what I was seeing, from the SA perspective, was a lot of my residents just leaving their stuff, not coming back because people were afraid to get sick,” Nails said. “I was seeing, also, people afraid to leave because housing insecurities, not knowing what things they’re bringing home to their family.”
March 23, 2020: Students attend first day of virtual classes
On March 23, 2020, students attended their first Zoom classes for Emory, something that would become a habit for some over the course of the next year and a half. However, Nails said the change posed some challenges, especially because his family did not understand his college lifestyle of studying until 3 a.m. and napping when he could. This was especially difficult, he said, because his mom was a nurse working with COVID-19 patients.
“She was working sunup to sundown, and so she was needing that extra support, but I wasn’t able to offer it because I’m here trying to hop onto different Zoom meetings and hop into all these different classes while also just trying to navigate the fact that, emotionally, I’ve just said goodbye to all of these folks, saying, ‘Oh, I’ll see you in like a week after we get back from spring break,’ to now realize I’m never going to see them again and get that closure to say goodbye,” Nails said.
Maki agreed, noting that although she was motivated to go to class because she was still paying tuition, she did not get the same quality of education.
“I know a lot of people weren’t thinking like that and it was really difficult for them to attend classes every day, which is just unfortunate, because, obviously, the amount of knowledge that was acquired that semester was just so diminished,” Maki said.
Nails expressed that the obstacles posed by online classes were compounded by the fact that he was on lockdown, preventing him from seeing his friends at home as well.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Nails said. “It felt very like solitary confinement.”
March 18, 2020: Emory research labs instructed to curtail non-essential research
Emory directed faculty to halt all “non-essential, non-critical” on-campus experiments and decrease contact with all study participants by March 23, 2020 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Research groups were also encouraged to retain their team structure and charge salaries to research grants as they shifted to remote work.
April 24, 2020: Career Center address students’ unemployment concerns
As the COVID-19 took over the United States, students began to face canceled and postponed summer opportunities and jobs. Executive Director of the Career Center Paul Fowler told the Wheel in 2020 that the results of a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that, of the 289 recruiting employers polled, 2% revoked full-time positions, 16% revoked internships and 34% postponed internship start dates. Director of Career Services Don Cornwell told the Wheel in 2020 that he expects the number of students graduating into “positive outcomes” to be lower than previous years.
“Everyone is dealing with a sense of uncertainty,” Cornwell told the Wheel at the time. “A lot of organizations want to retain the talent that they spent money and time on … I think it’s just a matter of when [the talent can work].”
To aid students facing unemployment, the Career Center constantly searched for career opportunities through Emory alumni, which they conveyed to the student body. The Career Center also revamped their newsletter and added webinars and workshops for application and resume writing tips.
May 4, 2020: Commencement website launches
The University’s Commencement Task Force planned extensive online celebrations after the Class of 2020’s in-person Commencement was canceled. In addition to individual school events, Emory launched a website on May 4, 2020 where individuals could honor graduates with messages, photos and videos. Other events, such as award ceremonies, Class Day presentations and a speech by Commencement speaker Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer, were later featured on the site.
May 15, 2020: University releases plans to restart summer research
Emory announced a three-phase plan to restart summer research on May 15, 2020. Under the first phase, research programs were expected to establish safety guidelines and plan the distribution of personal protective equipment and sanitizing materials. In phase two, core research facilities restarted on a small scale and the University’s libraries and the Michael C. Carlos Museum reopened to those with card access. Lastly, broader on-campus research activities were able to reopen.
June 11, 2020: Fall 2020 to be in person, conclude after Thanksgiving
Then-outgoing University President Claire Sterk and then-University President-elect and current President Gregory Fenves announced on June 11, 2020 that the fall 2020 semester would be held in-person, with students returning to campus on Aug. 19, 2020 without breaks until Thanksgiving, foregoing the typical Labor Day and fall breaks, when students would have an online exam period. The University planned on holding nearly one-third of classes remotely.
Students were also set to return to an altered campus life, per the announcement. Dining, for example, was set to be spread outside in tents to mitigate large gatherings and promote airflow. Additionally, Sterk and Fenves wrote that tuition would be applied uniformly across in-person and online course formats.
June 22, 2020: Emory announces housing, dining plans for fall 2020
Emory announced preliminary housing and dining plans on July 22, 2020 to prepare for students’ return to campus, including testing before move-in, mask requirements, enhanced cleaning in communal bathrooms and limited common area occupancy. Additionally, most dining halls were take-out only and all self-serve stations were removed from campus.
July 1, 2020: Sterk, President’s Leadership Team, deans face salary cuts
Sterk, the President’s Leadership Team and deans all reduced their compensation by 15%, starting July 1, 2020. The salary cuts, which were first announced on May 19, 2020, came as the University anticipated an approximately $10 million shortfall for the fiscal year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This reduction, which will be subject to review at the end of calendar year 2020, is not just a cost-savings step, but also a representation of the commitment the leadership team has to preserving Emory’s academic and research missions in the face of financial challenges,” the joint announcement reads.
July 16, 2020: Board of Trustees freezes tuition
The Emory Board of Trustees voted on July 16, 2020 to freeze undergraduate tuition, which was set to increase by 4% for the following academic year. Graduate student tuition also remained the same and students could ask University to reassess their financial aid package if they experienced economic changes during the pandemic.
July, 17, 2020: Emory reverses course on fall plan, significantly reduces campus capacity
In a reversal of their June 11, 2020 announcement that all students would return for in-person classes, Fenves and Sterk announced on July 17, 2020 that only certain students would be invited back to campus, while the majority of classes would move online.
Residential students included first-year, international and new transfer students, some seniors finishing Honors work, scholarship recipients whose programs stipulated on-campus housing and students who were approved to remain on campus. Only one student was placed in each room.
First year students were invited back because they were the most likely to transfer institutions. At the time, the University anticipated losing around $80 million with around 50% of Emory College of Arts and Sciences students expected to return.
July 17, 2020: University cancels fall sports until January
In a July 17, 2020 statement, Emory announced that there would be “no competition for Division III Athletics” until at least January, canceling entire seasons for fall sports, like volleyball and soccer. This came after the University Athletic Association (UAA) announced that they would not mandate the conference schedule on July 8, 2020, placing the future of collegiate careers into the hands of individual institutions.
This left many senior athletes without closure, including soccer co-captain Max Mehlman (21B).
“We are all obviously disappointed by the cancellation of our fall season,” Mehlman said when he was a senior. “I fully understand and support the decision that was made, but going into my senior year and not being able to join my teammates on the field absolutely breaks my heart.”
Aug. 20, 2020: Emory requires mandatory testing for residential students
Residential students were required to participate in follow up COVID-19 testing to evaluate the effectiveness of Emory’s health protocols, per an Aug. 20, 2020 announcement to students. On the Oxford campus, resident advisers (RA) and students who moved from the Clairmont campus kicked off testing on Aug. 21, 2020. Testing for students on the Atlanta campus commenced on Aug. 22, 2022, while the remaining Oxford students followed on Aug. 24, 2020.
Aug. 27, 2020: Emory announces 47 positive cases since Aug. 1, published COVID-19 Dashboard
Emory published its COVID-19 Dashboard on Aug. 27, 2020, becoming the University’s go-to location to track positive case counts and, eventually, vaccination rates. The Dashboard was updated daily. Associate Professor of Epidemiology Neel Gandhi announced that 47 Emory students, faculty and staff had tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 1, with 102 cases since June 1, 2020.
Aug. 31, 2020: Resident advisers overwhelmed by COVID-19 obligations, University’s insufficient response
When RAs returned to campus, many were met with first year students who refused to comply with COVID-19 regulations, leaving some RAs frustrated and overwhelmed by their new obligations.
Some RAs told the Wheel that they were forced to break up dorm parties and the University did not give substantial punishments, meaning students would defy the rules again and again. Nails said it was difficult to find a balance between maintaining a good relationship with his residents while also making sure they were following COVID-19 protocols.
“At a certain point I had to really choose which one is my priority,” Nails said. “Is my priority having my residents feel safe to where they can come and talk to me about something, or are they always gonna see me as the one who says, ‘Pull up your mask. Why are there four or five people in your room?’”
Sept. 1, 2020: Some Emory employees face salary cuts
Effective Sept. 1, 2020, employees with an annual salary of $75,000 or more experienced a 5% salary reduction. Affected employees received one personal day per month throughout the duration of the salary cut.
“We recognize that this salary reduction will be felt by you and your family,” a letter to faculty and staff announcing the change read. “We regret that this temporary change is necessary but hope that this shared sacrifice will result in long-term health and stability for the university.”
Sept. 20, 2020: Fears of isolation, COVID-19 infect first-year experience
Entering college amid a pandemic, students’ first-year college experience was drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because only first-years were allowed to return to campus in fall 2020, underclassmen lacked connection to older students, barring sophomore advisers, RAs and a few other students permitted to live on campus. Additionally, Emory prohibited first-years from having roommates and limited the number of students allowed in gathering spaces, impairing first-years’ ability to form bonds with peers.
“There is really not a lot you can do to meet people when you are on a Zoom webinar,” Isabel Patton (24C) told the Wheel when she was a first-year. “As much as online events are trying to connect people, they also really distance people because you can’t get a connection with others.”
First-years also reported anxiety when finding out a close contact or someone in their dorm tested positive for COVID-19. When students tested positive, the University required them to temporarily relocate to the Emory Conference Center Hotel.
“There’s always this feeling of having your mental bag packed, like you might have to go and quarantine tomorrow,” Rebecca Schwartz (24C) told the Wheel when she was a first-year. “You’re always on your feet and prepare for things to go wrong.”
Oct. 15, 2020: Spring break canceled, more students invited to campus
Fenves announced plans for spring 2021 on Oct. 15, 2020, noting that there would not be a spring break and students would instead follow a compressed schedule. Most students began the semester on Jan. 25, 2021 and completed exams by May 14, 2021.
Emory also planned to increase the number of students living on campus while maintaining one student per room. On the Atlanta campus, potential residential students included those in Emory College Undergraduate Research Programs, first-year students not already living on campus, experiential learners who needed to complete professional development for their spring degrees and international students who were not able to return for the fall semester. On the Oxford campus, potential residential students included first-year and international students studying remotely who studied remotely in the fall and a small number of sophomores.
Oct. 22, 2020: Students quarantined at Conference Center Hotel laud Emory
Students exposed to COVID-19 were sent to the Emory Conference Center Hotel and those who tested positive remained in isolation for two weeks to prevent large-scale outbreaks on campus. One student who isolated and requested to remain anonymous told the Wheel in 2020 that the University’s quarantine system was “pretty good.”
Matthew Klein (21C), who isolated in the hotel, told in 2020 that somebody checked in on him every few hours, while students reported that they received support from RAs and professors.
Nails also quarantined in the hotel during the peak of student cases, resulting in him having a roommate for the first part of his stay. He noted that it was difficult to manage his physical and mental health while maintaining his academics while in quarantine.
“COVID isn’t just a 10 day thing,” Nails said. “It takes a toll on you. People have to recover, and also mentally it’s just very tolling to try and keep up with all the classwork and everything.”
Oct. 27, 2020: SGA eliminated undergraduate SAF for spring, debates contingency caps
An undergraduate-wide referendum to cut the student activities fee (SAF) to $0 for the spring 2020 semester passed with 98% of 940 votes on Oct. 27, 2020, removing $110 from students’ cost of attendance. To offset the change, funding for the Student Government Association’s (SGA) macro budget will come from its contingency account.
The original SAF reduction bill included a provision to waive the contingency caps for each division in the 2021-22 academic year, but SGA ultimately introduced a separate bill on the topic, which was heavily debated. Contingency caps are limits on the amount of unused funds that College Council, the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) Council and the Emory Student Nurses Association are allowed to retain from one academic year to the next.
Former College Council President Aditya Jhaveri (21C) was one of few proponents of waiving the contingency caps.
“Any money that an organization doesn’t use, I believe, should still be that organization’s money and should be irrespective of an additional budget they are given for the full next year,” Jhaveri told at the time.
However, the majority of SGA members — including all members of the SGA finance committee with the exception of its only College Council member — BBA Council, Oxford SGA, Director of Student Involvement, Leadership and Transitions Lisa Loveall and Associate Director of Student Governance Services VonYetta Hunter all opposed eliminating the contingency caps.
“It clearly is a move by College Council to try to have more money in their account, but when you look at the actual amount of money that they are going to have, they don’t need that money anyway, so it’s just a weird power grabbing clout move,” former SGA Vice President of Finance Ben Wiener (21C) said at the time.
Oct. 27, 2020: Emory cancels upcoming winter sports season
The Emory Athletics Department announced on Oct. 27, 2020 that the upcoming winter sports season would be canceled, following the cancellation of that year’s fall sports. Winter teams affected by this decision included men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s indoor track and field and men’s and women’s swimming and diving.
Oct. 29, 2020: Emory initiates clinical trial testing Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine
Emory enrolled adult volunteers in Phase 3 clinical trial testing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was the first late-stage trial testing the effectiveness of a single dose vaccine against COVID-19. This came after the vaccine showed “encouraging” results in an earlier study.
In Phase 3, researchers aimed to determine if the investigational vaccine could prevent moderate to severe COVID-19 and used specialized tests to distinguish between naturally-acquired immunity and vaccine-induced immunity.
Nov. 16, 2020: Emory implements new COVID-19 screening procedures
A Nov. 16, 2020 message to the Emory Community announced that the University would begin replacing the rapid antigen nasal swab tests with a saliva-based collection platform. Nov. 20, 2020 was the last day students could receive a rapid antigen nasal swab, with the full transition to saliva tests taking place from Nov. 23, 2020 to Nov. 25, 2020.
“This new testing platform is highly sensitive, provides increased testing capacity for the Emory community, and employs a significantly more comfortable collection methodology,” the message read.
Nov. 16, 2020: Moderna vaccine tested at Emory deemed effective
Monderna released an analysis on Nov. 16, 2020 showing that their mRNA-1273 vaccine, which was co-developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Moderna, Inc. and tested by Emory’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, was 94.5% effective at preventing COVID-19. Emory was the second site in the United States to enroll participants in Phase 1 of the mRNA-1273 vaccine study and later enrolled about 700 people as part of the Phase 3 trial, called the COVE study.
Maki said she is proud to attend an institution so involved in the development of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“I would always love to tie Emory’s name and my school to advances in science as big as that,” Maki said. “I’ll likely be working with the CDC next year, so it’s really cool to say that I’m involved in some small way with progressing science and public health and … disease management across the United States.”
Nov. 20, 2020: Emory announces in-person Commencement
Following virtual Commencement for the Class of 2020, Fenves announced on Nov. 20, 2020 that Emory would hold a modified in-person Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 at the Georgia World Congress Center. The University also planned an in-person celebration for the Class of 2020.
Due to COVID-19, each graduating student was only permitted to bring two guests, stirring disappointment among graduating seniors. When Mikahla Gay (21C) was a senior, she told the Wheel that she always envisioned her four younger siblings being at her college graduation. This was particularly important for Gay, considering she is a first-generation college student and wanted to inspire her younger siblings to pursue a degree in higher education.
Additionally, the University did not award any honorary degrees at the 2021 Commencement for the first time in 48 years.
“After careful consideration, and the desire to focus on our students in the exceptional circumstances of this commencement, President Fenves decided not to move forward with awarding an honorary degree this year,” former Director of Enterprise Communications Gana Ahn wrote in an April 1, 2021 email to the Wheel.
However, Emory selected former Director of NIAID Anthony Facui, who had been in the national spotlight since the start of the pandemic, to deliver a virtual live Commencement address. The University also awarded Fauci the President’s Medal for his role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nov. 25, 2020: As leave of absence rate doubles, students reflect on gap semester
In total, 136 students took a leave of absence in fall 2020, a large jump from the 70 students who did the same in 2019. Some students cited online classes and a lack of in-person connections as reasons for their decision, including Ducal Hoang (21C), who said he was not fully invested in his classes, instead waking up, attending a Zoom lesson, then immediately logging off to go back to sleep.
Additionally, Kendall Kalmans (23C) noted that she was motivated to take a leave of absence after missing out on the social aspect of college.
“The hardest part has been the lack of busyness, socially and academically,” Kalmans said at the time. “I’ve not been able to plan for anything or look forward to things.”
Some students reported using their time off to rediscover their passions and pursue hobbies outside of school — Hoang worked on his clothing business, Penguyen, while Kalmans started her baking business, Hoots and Challah.
“It’s a much-needed break,” Hoang told the Wheel at the time. “I’ve been a little overwhelmed with classes, so having this little break gives me time to step back, enjoy life a little and work out other parts of my career. … My overall happiness was really down in the dumps, but having this time put me in a better headspace.”
Dec. 10, 2020: Students disregarded Community Compact, went to bars in fall 2020
As the fall 2020 semester came to a close, Uber drivers told the Wheel that some students had spent their weekends frequenting bars and clubs, defying the Emory Student Community Compact, which all on-campus students signed, agreeing to wear a face mask and maintain appropriate distance at off-campus events.
“People don’t wear masks when inside places,” German Martin, an Uber driver who frequently drove students to bars on the weekends, told the Wheel at the time. “They are distancing themselves from reality and what is really going on.”
The number of students going out seemed to increase as the semester progressed, coinciding with a surge in COVID-19 cases on campus. After Halloween, the University set record highs with 27 reported cases the week of Nov. 9, 2020, which Executive Director of Emory Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz said in November 2020 was likely due to off-campus gatherings.
This mirrored an increase in COVID-19 cases across Georgia and the United States. Some students, like Kathryn Stachowicz (24C), expressed annoyance with students partying and bringing the virus back to campus.
“It’s really disappointing that Emory students are so cavalier about the health of others and that they don’t seem to recognize that over 200,000 people have died and millions more have gotten sick in America alone,” Stachowicz said at the time.
Dec. 20, 2020: Emory Healthcare administers first COVID-19 vaccines to frontline workers
Emory University Hospital Nurse Manager Nicole Baker became the first Emory Healthcare employee to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on Dec. 20, 2020, kicking off Phase 1 of vaccinations for the University, which included health care workers and long-term care residents.
Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital Ingrid Pinzon Quiroga called receiving the vaccine a “relief.”
“To the people that are not in the medical field, they don’t know how we feel, how afraid we are,” Quiroga told the Wheel at the time. “The fact that I got the vaccine, it takes away that feeling.”
Dec. 28, 2020: Emory researchers begin phase 3 of Novavax vaccine trial
The Emory School of Medicine began enrolling participants at the Ponce de Leon research site at Grady Memorial Hospital for Novavax, Inc.’s Phase 3 trial of a coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 28, 2021. Researchers aimed to enroll about 300 people from the Atlanta area, making up a small portion of the goal of 30,000 participants enrolled across the United States and Mexico.
The trial for the Novavax vaccine — which mimics the spike proteins found on the surface of the coronavirus and required two doses, three weeks apart — was open to adults above the age of 18 who were “at elevated risks for COVID infections” and people older than 65 with underlying health conditions.
Jan. 1, 2021: Salaries return to original levels
Faculty and staff salaries returned to their pre-pandemic levels on Jan. 1, 2021 after reaching the budgeted savings targets for the fiscal year, which Fenves announced on Nov. 19, 2020. This came after the President’s Leadership Team members’ and deans’ salaries were cut by 15% per month in July 2020 and employees with an annual salary higher than $75,000 received a 5% salary cut in September 2020.
The cuts were anticipated to save Emory $5.5 million, which helped pay for COVID-related expenses, according to Fenves’ announcement.
Jan. 12, 2021: UAA cancels spring sports
The UAA announced on Jan. 12, 2021 that formal UAA spring sport competition for the 2020-21 season was canceled following a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases across the United States. Affected teams included baseball, softball, track and field, golf and tennis.
However, the announcement did not say member institutions could not hold practices or participate in non-UAA competition, serving as a glimmer of hope for some athletes.
“We’re totally prepared to play games this season and really think we can,” baseball outfielder Michael Edelman (21B) said when he was a senior. “It’s really up to the school to approve a plan that allows us to play local schools.”
Jan. 18, 2021: For 2020 grads, the future is still uncertain
After finishing their college experience online, 2020 graduates faced a shrinking workforce. In January 2021, Fowler told the Wheel that, between April 2020 and the start of that summer, 10% of full-time positions and 50% of internships were canceled. Fowler explained that this caused increased anxiety among graduates, with 35 students scheduling appointments with a career service staff member between Dec. 24, 20200 and Jan. 4, 20211.
At the time, Drumil Zaveri (20C) told the Wheel that the pandemic made it more difficult for him to find a job in the United States, while David Kulp (20C) said his plans to earn a master’s degree in Scotland, work in the digital health field and attend medical school were delayed.
“This whole situation changed my mindset around planning because it’s impossible to plan what the next 24 hours are going to look like,” Kulp told the Wheel in 2021.
Jan. 19, 2021: University announces testing, gathering plans for spring 2021 semester
On Jan. 19, 2021, Emory announced that all students living in residence halls and all students conducting on campus classes, labs and research would be required to take an asymptomatic screening test weekly throughout the spring. The University also offered onboarding testing and diagnostic testing for community members who were symptomatic or exposed to COVID-19.
Additionally, the University stated that although the community would still be acting under the orange gathering status, the needle had “shifted toward the red category.” As a result, recreation centers were closed on both the Atlanta and Oxford campuses and all indoor gatherings were prohibited until Feb. 8, 2021. However, in-person classes, offices and labs, as well as outdoor gatherings with ten or less individuals and a faculty or staff member, were still permitted.
Jan. 25, 2021: Nearby businesses struggle to keep doors open amid pandemic
As the pandemic continued into 2021 and fewer students ventured into Emory Village and Emory Point, many businesses were forced to minimize their staff and cut down their hours of operation, while some had to shift their focus to take-out or shut down entirely. Rise-n-Dine, Lucky’s Burger and Grill and Tin Lizzy’s Cantina closed their doors permanently during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When Emory did not come back in session, we lost all of our student business,” Dragon Bowl owner Rich Chey told the Wheel in 2021. “We are used to that for the 10 to 12 weeks of summer that we don’t have students, but this time, not only did we not have students but we did not have faculty or staff.”
Feb. 8, 2021: Gathering restrictions expire, recreation centers reopen
The restrictions put in place on Jan. 19, 2021 expired for residential students on Feb. 8, 2021, meaning recreation centers reopened on both the Atlanta and Oxford campuses and indoor gatherings with ten or less students and a faculty or staff member were again permitted.
Feb. 9, 2021: Alumni advertise COVID-19 human vaccine trials
As part of its Phase 3 clinical trial for the Moderna mRNA vaccine, the Emory Vaccine Clinic (EVC) had to recruit a representative and diverse population for the trial, beginning in March 2020 and ending in October 2020. In a double-blind study, the EVC administered the vaccine to roughly 250 participants at the end of July 2020 and asked participants to return for their second injection 28 days later.
Julia Bartol (20C) and Clara Caro (20C) both acted as EVC recruiters. Both alumni noted that it was vital to recruit a diverse pool of participants that represented Atlanta as a whole.
“A big goal for our Atlanta site has been to have a lot of diversity in our trials, and that comes with challenges but it’s also so important, and we have been able to recruit people of all different backgrounds, which has been really amazing to see,” Bartol said at the time.
However, diverse recruitment was sometimes difficult due to marginalized communities’ hesitancy toward the vaccine “given the history of this country with minority groups and health care,” Caro said in 2021.
Feb. 9, 2021: Some athletic teams resume in-person practices, others follow
Some athletic teams, such as softball, resumed in-person practices as early as Feb. 9, 2021, while others, including men’s golf, followed later that month. This came after Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Success and Compliance Audrey Hester notified athletes on Dec. 21, 2020 of a plan to hold official practices in the spring.
While practicing in a post-pandemic world, athletes were required to sign an Eagle Pledge agreeing to follow Emory’s community safety guidelines and fill out a daily health assessment, as well as get regular testing. After their initial isolation period, athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 were required to take medical tests, including an EKG and blood work, to ensure they were not experiencing long-term symptoms before returning to practice.
“The vibes were not great, but we rallied,” Maki said. “We did a really good job coming back in February when the pool opened back up again because we were just so excited to be back in our facility.”
Feb. 19, 2021: Emory reports 106 cases in two days, increases mandatory testing for students
Fenves announced on Feb. 19, 2021 that on-campus students would be required to undergo screening tests twice per week starting Feb. 22. Additionally, off-campus students who visit campus were required to be tested once per week, while faculty and staff who access campus were encouraged to undergo weekly testing.
The announcement followed 106 new COVID-19 cases reported on campus in two days — the largest surge since the pandemic began.
March 10, 2021: Gathering policies update within ‘orange’ operating status
Chief Resilience Officer Amir St. Clair, who previously served as associate vice president and executive director for the University’s COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery, announced on March 10, 2022 that although the University would remain in an “orange” operating status, the indoor and outdoor gathering policy limit would be raised from 10 to 25 individuals, starting that same day. Visitors could also begin coming to campus to perform in small, organized outdoor events. Additionally, St. Clair announced on March 10, 2022 that all students, both on and off-campus, would be able to access recreation facilities beginning on March 15, 2022.
March 10, 2021: Intercollegiate competition resumes with away games
Athletic teams could resume intercollegiate competition on March 10, 2021, beginning with away games and matches. However, athletes could not stay overnight while traveling — with the exception of golf, which played weekend-long tournaments out of state — meaning they were expected to endure hours-long bus rides before competing later the same day. Additionally, athletes were required to social distance and were not permitted to eat on the buses.
March 25, 2021: Emory expands vaccine eligibility to all students, faculty, staff
On March 23, 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that COVID-19 vaccine eligibility would be expanded to all residents aged 16 and older, starting on March 25, 2021. As a result, Emory outlined updated vaccine registration processes beginning on March 25, 2021 — faculty and staff completed a COVID-19 vaccination consent form in their Employee Health Portal before receiving an email to schedule a vaccine appointment through Emory Healthcare. Students filled out an online form to attest to their eligibility, consent and schedule a vaccination.
March 24, 2021: Emory to invite all students to campus for fall 2021
Following an academic year where only first-years were permitted to reside on campus, Fenves announced on March 24, 2021 that the University would allow all students to return to campus in fall 2021. Fenves cited the increasingly available COVID-19 vaccines in his announcement but did not specify if being vaccinated against COVID-19 would be a requirement ahead of fall 2021 move-in.
March 24, 2021: Emory College announces return to full residence hall occupancy in fall 2021
After first-years were not allowed to have roommates in the 2020-21 academic year, causing some to live in traditionally sophomore residence halls like Woodruff Residential Center to accommodate for the increased need of freshman dorm rooms, Senior Director of Housing Operations Elaine Turner announced on March 24, 2021 that Emory College residence halls would operate at full capacity in the 2021-22 academic year. She also noted that Emory would resume its requirement for first and second-year students to live on campus.
Former Dean of Oxford College Douglas Hicks similarly announced that same day that the “vast majority” of Oxford courses would be offered in person in the 2021-22 academic year. He also noted that Emory College would resume assigning two people to a room, in-person Oxford Dining Hall seating and shuttle routes to the Atlanta campus and certain Newton County businesses, such as Kroger and Target.
March 31, 2021: Emory participates in Moderna clinical trial against COVID-19 variant
The Hope Clinic of Emory Vaccine Center administered the first doses of a Moderna vaccine against the B.1.351 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a Phase I clinical trial on March 31, 2021. The B.1.351 variant, which had multiple mutations that could possibly alter the immune system’s ability to recognize and neutralize the virus, was initially identified in South Africa before being found in at least nine states in the United States.
Emory was one of four clinical research sites that are part of the NIAID-funded Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Consortium participating in the study, which enrolled about 210 healthy adult volunteers.
April 5, 2021: In-person gathering capacity increases to 35, SAAC facilities reopen
St. Clair announced on March 29, 2021 that Emory’s gathering risk meter would shift from the “orange zone” to the “yellow zone” on April 5, meaning indoor events could begin holding up to 35 people for up to 90 minutes, while outdoor events could host up to 50 people.
Additionally, the outdoor pool, tennis courts, sand volleyball court and outdoor basketball court at the Student Activity and Academic Center on the Clairmont campus reopened on April 5, while University-sponsored domestic travel for research, scholarship or business also restarted alongside class-related travel within a 250 mile radius.
April 5, 2021: Emory welcomes athletic competitions back to campus
Home athletic competitions resumed on the Atlanta campus on April 5 — although no spectators were allowed — under the University’s shift to the “yellow zone” of its gathering risk meter. On game days, facility access was limited to essential personnel, including the home and visiting team traveling parties, the Emory Athletic Department and the University staff and emergency personnel.
“I think I speak for the whole team and all Emory athletes when I say I couldn’t be more excited to get back on the court and get back to competing, especially at home,” men’s tennis player Michael Moll (23B) told the Wheel when he was a sophomore. “It’s been over a year, so we’re all definitely ready to compete again on campus.”
April 19, 2021: Emory to require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 for fall 2021
Fenves announced on April 19, 2021 that all students would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend Emory in fall 2021. In a COVID-19 vaccine survey conducted before the announcement, 73.42% of responding students reported that they “strongly support” Emory requiring students to be fully vaccinated for fall 2021. Additionally, 51.43% of students reported that they had already received their first dose and 30.62% were fully vaccinated.
April 24, 2021: Emory announces plans for fall 2021 campus experience
St. Clair announced on April 24, 2021 that in-person classes would be held at full capacity and that more campus and sporting events would be hosted on campus in fall 2021. Additionally, St. Clair wrote that labs would return to normal operations and residence halls would be occupied at full capacity.
May 7, 2021: Emory helps launch COVID-19 vaccine trial for children
In May 2021, Emory partnered with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to initiate a clinical trial, called the KidCOVE study, testing different doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in children from 6 months to less than 12 years. The study consisted of two phases: first, all participants received two doses of the vaccine to determine the best dose for each age group. In the second phase, researchers further evaluated how effective the two doses of the vaccine were in combating COVID-19.
May 11, 2021: Emory Athletics welcome back UAA competition in fall 2021
The UAA announced on May 11, 2021 that conference competition would resume in fall 2021, meaning Emory could begin competing against schools across the country. In Spring 2021 Emory only played against local teams to minimize travel during the pandemic.
At the time, men’s soccer forward Zach Kornblum (23B) told the Wheel that the prospect of resuming UAA competition improved team spirit.
“The spring was good,” Kornblum told the Wheel in 2021. “We were able to train together, but we were still a bit restricted with COVID. We didn’t have the locker room — a couple of other things weren’t totally normal. So the announcement, as far as morale goes, is definitely exciting for everyone.”
May 20, 2021: University lifts mask requirement in outdoor settings
St. Clair announced on May 20, 2021 that Emory would no longer require masks in outdoor spaces, but would still require masks in indoor spaces “regardless of vaccination status.” He advised unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks outdoors.
June 7, 2021: Emory to lift COVID-19 screening requirement for vaccinated individuals
The University ceased requiring fully-vaccinated students to “conduct regular asymptomatic screening testing” on June 7, 2021, shifting from the University’s previous requirement that on-campus students must get tested weekly.
Maylynn Hu (22Ox), who participated in research on the Atlanta campus at the time and tested twice a week during the spring semester and once a week during the summer, told the Wheel in 2021 that the change would “take a bit of getting used to.”
“As much of a hassle the biweekly testing was, it was a good way to make sure they got to anyone who had tested positive very quickly,” Hu told the Wheel at the time. “Hopefully we can all stay really responsible and make sure that the switch to not mandatorily getting tested every week is a good one.”
St. Clair announced the change on June 3, adding that the University would be switching from a yellow to a green operating status on July 1, allowing all campus spaces to return to pre-pandemic density limits. Emory shuttles also resumed normal operations with full capacity.
July 11, 2021: Emory professor creates petition urging vaccination requirement for faculty and staff
Professor of History Clifton Crais helped organize a petition alongside Emory College faculty on July 11, 2022, asking the University to require all returning faculty, staff and post-doctoral fellows receive full COVID-19 vaccinations two weeks prior to the first day of classes. At the time, Crais told the Wheel that he sent an email on July 15, 2022 to Fenves to notify him of the faculty’s request and urge him to adopt the requirements, which he said Fenves’ office acknowledged.
As of July 22, 2022, the petition had amassed 174 signatures, including faculty from schools such as the Emory School of Law, the Emory School of Medicine and Goizueta Business School.
“We are demanding, mandating vaccines for one population, the students, but not for other populations, faculty and staff,” Crais told the Wheel in July 2021. “We’re telling students to do one thing and everyone else to do something different.”
July 13, 2021: Masks still required indoors, proof of vaccination submission deadline approaches for returning students
Amid the rise of the Delta COVID-19 variant, St. Clair told the Wheel in July 2021 that the mask requirement for indoor spaces would remain at Emory indefinitely due to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission indoors. He also noted that the University was waiting for vaccination rates to increase as an effort to maintain “a safe and comfortable environment.”
Incoming first-year and transfer students were required to submit proof of vaccination by July 1, 2021, while returning students were required to do the same by Aug. 1, 2021. The University placed a hold on the OPUS accounts of students who were not fully vaccinated, preventing them from possibly enrolling in classes and changing their class registration.
Rabinovitz also told the Wheel that Student Health Services planned to begin “seeing patients again in full density” in the fall.
July 27, 2021: Emory to require vaccines for all faculty, staff
Fenves announced on July 27, 2021, that all faculty and staff would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of the fall semester. This policy also applied to contractors with a regular presence on campus. Over 85% of Emory community members were vaccinated at the time of the announcement.
The vaccine requirement followed a petition spearheaded by Crais, asking the University to require all faculty, staff and post-doctoral fellows to be fully vaccinated two weeks before classes started that fall.
“The July 27 announcement … is welcome news, even if it comes weeks, and in some cases months, after other institutions have mandated vaccines for all employees in addition to students,” Crais wrote in a 2021 email to the Wheel. “Clearly, time is of the essence and we all have a lot of work to do to ensure everyone is vaccinated.”
Aug. 25, 2021: Emory students return to in-person classes amid surge in U.S. COVID-19 cases
For many students, Aug. 25, 2021 marked their return to in-person classes for the first time in over a year, although campus was different than they remembered — indoor masking and COVID-19 vaccinations were both required. Emory operated under a green operating status at 92.2% of students and 89.8% of faculty and staff were fully vaccinated. Emory required weekly testing for unvaccinated individuals.
However, the Delta variant was spreading across the United States as students returned to campus, causing a spike in national cases. The Delta variant accounted for about 86% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in the week before Aug. 14, 2021, a large increase from the 2.4% of cases it caused in the week preceding May 15, 2021. Likewise, Emory saw an increase in the number of reported cases compared to the first half of the summer, with the University reporting 44 student cases and 83 faculty and staff cases between July 12, 2021 and Aug. 25, 2021.
Sept. 2, 2021: University downgrades to yellow operating condition, citing increase in cases
Emory reverted from a green to a “modified” yellow operating condition on Sept. 2, 2021 due to an increase in COVID-19 cases among Emory community members. As of Sept. 2, 2021, the campus COVID-19 positivity rate for students increased from just over 1% to 3.24% on Aug. 30, 2021.
With the shift in operating conditions, the University encouraged masking outdoors, regardless of vaccination status, as well as outdoor dining. Oxford Dining Hall and Dobbs Common Table access was subsequently restricted to students with meal plans and take-out service became available again on Sept. 3, 2021. The University also recommended that non-academic indoor gatherings of more than 250 individuals be moved outdoors and restricted indoor gatherings from offering food or drinks.
Sept. 3, 2021: Select facilities close due to noncompliance with masking
After seeing that some “pockets” of the Emory community were failing to comply with indoor masking requirements, the University took proactive measures to communicate expectations, according to St. Clair. This included shutting down some facilities in the Woodruff Physical Education Center and Student Activity and Academic Center, including the indoor basketball, tennis and racquetball courts.
Sept. 8, 2021: As positive student cases surge, Conference Center forced to open more isolation rooms
Emory recorded a near-record 50 positive student COVID-19 cases on Sept. 2, 2021, a 455% increase from the previous week. As of Sept. 7, 2021 209 students tested positive for COVID-19 over the previous 10-day period, constituting a 4.58% positivity rate.
This spike in cases overwhelmed the Emory Conference Center Hotel, prompting them to make more rooms available for isolating students. Additionally, some students had to isolate with a roommate in the hotel, a departure from Emory’s solitary isolation policy.
Emily Silver (24C) was one student who had to isolate with another student. Her room had a king size bed and a tiny cot, which Silver described as “smaller than a dorm bed and just looks sad.” Therefore, Silver and her roommate decided to share the king-size bed.
Sept. 16, 2021: Student COVID-19 cases begin to stabilize after spike
September 2021 saw the highest single-day COVID-19 case total since the beginning of the pandemic, totaling at 387 reported cases throughout the month. Over two-thirds of the reported cases occurred in the first half of September 2021, with most transmission occurring off campus, according to St. Clair.
However, cases began to stabilize about halfway through the month, with only zero to four new student cases and zero to six new faculty and staff cases reported daily from Sept. 16, 2021 to Oct. 14, 2021.
Sept. 22, 2021: Businesses near Emory continue to persevere through pandemic
Although dining increased as students returned to campus, businesses in Emory Village and Emory Point continued to push through challenges posed by COVID-19 and national labor shortage. The General Muir was only open five days a week due to a personnel shortage. Wagaya faced the same issue and was not open for lunch Monday through Thursday.
“As much as we would like to serve as many people as possible and see peoples’ faces inside the restaurant, because of the short staff situation, we decided to close certain sections of the restaurant and accept more takeout,” Wagaya owner Takashi Ostuka told the Wheel at the time.
Sept. 27, 2021: Facilities reopen after closing due to failure to follow masking requirements
After being closed for over three weeks due to noncompliance with indoor masking policy, the facilities in the Woodruff Physical Education Center and Student Activity and Academic Center reopened with the hope that students would begin masking up.
“Our goal is to keep these indoor spaces open,” Director of Athletics Keiko Price wrote in an October 2021 email to the Wheel. “But that will only happen if all members of our community follow the University’s mask requirements.”
Oct. 6, 2021: Students reflect on gap year experiences after returning to college
During the 2020-21 academic year, 4% of Emory’s undergraduate sophomores, juniors and seniors took one or more semesters off, a notable increase from the 1.1% of students who took gap semesters in the 2019-20 academic year. Several students cited online classes as a reason for their gap semesters. Rani Schwartz (23C) spent her gap semester re-evaluating what was important to her and strengthening her relationship with God through volunteering. She ultimately returned to Emory but decided to forgo her original pre-law track.
“That [volunteer work] really opened my eyes,” Schwartz told the Wheel in 2021. “Just getting to speak with people who you know were impoverished and who were struggling to make their rent.”
Additionally, Emory saw an increase in the number of first-year deferrals — about 7% of first-year students deferred their admission to Emory and chose to start in fall 2021, while only 1.5% did the same in previous years.
Oct. 14, 2021: Emory limits COVID-19 vaccination exemptions to medical, ‘sincere’ religious reasons
St. Clair announced on Oct. 14, 2021 that faculty, staff and students must upload a record of full immunization against COVID-19 by Dec. 8, 2021 if they did not have a medical or sincere religious exemption. Previously, the University allowed vaccine exemptions for Emory community members who applied for remote work or who held strong beliefs against getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
At the time, 310 students were exempt from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement, with 21 students exempt for medical reasons. The announcement stated that students who previously applied for medical exemptions would not need to reapply.
Nov. 3, 2021: CDC releases COVID-19 booster guidelines, Emory will not operate mass distribution cite
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Oct. 21 that Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine recipients who are at least 65 years old, as well as anyone over 18 years old who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, may now receive booster doses.
Despite the announcement, Emory Healthcare would not operate a central booster vaccine distribution site, unlike how during the spring and summer of 2021 when Emory Healthcare had a vaccine distribution site at Northlake Mall.
“The administration and distribution of boosters will look different than the first and second dose aries,” St. Clair said at the time. “It’ll come in different waves and more staggered, and it is not required.”
Nov. 30, 2021: FDA advisory panel endorses Emory-created antiviral Molnupiravir to treat COVID-19
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory board voted 10-13 on Nov. 30, 2021 that the government should authorize Molnupiravir, an antiviral pill discovered by Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE) scientists, for Emergency Use Authorization to treat COVID-19. DRIVE CEO George Painter led the pill’s creation with the help of DRIVE Chief Operating Officer David Perryman and DRIVE Advisory Committee Chair Dennis Liotta.
However, some scientists, including University of Utah infectious disease specialist Sankar Swaminatha, expressed concern about Molnupiravir.
“The risk of widespread effects on potential birth defects, especially delayed effects on the male, has not been adequately studied,” Swaminathan said in a 2021 interview with the New York Times.
Dec. 16, 2021: University requires community members to receive COVID-19 booster
Fenves announced on Dec. 16, 2021 that all Emory students, faculty and staff would be required to receive a COVID-19 booster vaccine by Jan. 19, 2022 for the spring semester — a decision that Paris Bates (23C), who is immunocompromised with Type 1 diabetes, said was the first step back to normal.
“With more than 97% of students, faculty, and staff currently vaccinated, we have kept our campus healthy,” Fenves wrote in the announcement. “The booster is the next step in an evolving public health strategy that has seen us adapt to every new development in the pandemic to continue the learning, teaching, and discovery that define Emory.”
Nails said he was very happy when Emory decided to require the vaccine, saying that he signed up to get his shot as soon as he could, getting an appointment at 8:30 a.m. in Kroger. He explained that the vaccine made him feel safer and gave him more freedom.
“Emory was pushing to get us back to a normal college experience, or whatever this normal in a pandemic is,” Nails said. “It was like the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Maki said the booster requirement was “awesome” for public health and encouraged trust in the science behind vaccines.
“There was a responsibility for students who are educated in a community such as Emory that really enforces public health and belief in science to inform families and family members and people in your community back home of the importance of everybody getting a vaccine and everybody getting a booster,” Maki said. “It was really cool that Emory got to be a part of all of that.”
Dec. 23, 2021: FDA authorizes COVID-19 oral antiviral drug developed at Emory
The FDA granted Molnupiravir an Emergency Use Authorization for COVID-19 treatment on Dec. 23, 2021. Although an Emergency Use Authorization is not the same as FDA approval, the FDA concluded that the “known and potential benefits” of Molnupiravir outweighed “the known and potential risks,” meaning the unapproved drug could be used to “diagnose, treat or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions when certain statutory criteria have been met, including that there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.”
Molnupiravir works by causing mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus during replication. The drug could be prescribed to adults with “mild-to-moderate” COVID-19 who were at risk of developing severe COVID-19 that may result in hospitalization or death, as well as adults who did not have access to other “clinically appropriate” treatment options.
Molnupiravir was only authorized for those over 18 as it “may affect bone and cartilage growth.” Additionally, a clinical trial found that Molnupiravir may cause fetal harm, so it was not authorized for pregnant patients.
Dec. 28, 2021: Emory to hold spring courses remotely for first three weeks of spring 2022 semester
Amid rising cases of the Omicron variant in late 2021, Fenves announced on Dec. 28, 2021 that the first three weeks of the spring 2022 semester would be held remotely. The campus, including residence halls, still opened on Jan. 4, 2022, but students were not required to be on campus for in-person classes until Jan. 31, 2022.
Bates said starting the spring semester online made her worry that Emory was returning to square one.
“I was just worried we were gonna be in quarantine for another year, especially since that meant that I would be … going into my senior year online, which I would really hate,” Bates said.
Dec. 28, 2021: Emory reverts to orange operating status, requires negative COVID-19 test for move in
Emory moved to an orange operating status on Dec. 28, 2022 following an announcement from St. Clair. The University previously operated at a “modified” yellow operating status for most of the fall 2021 semester. Under the orange operating model, all non-essential events and gatherings were postponed or moved to a virtual setting and non-academic gatherings were capped at 25 individuals. Indoor dining was also prohibited and dining halls adopted a grab-and-go model.
Additionally, students returning to campus were required to submit an attestation form indicating that they received a negative PCR test 48 hours before arriving to campus or a negative antigen test, including at-home tests, 24 hours before arriving to campus. Emory did not require asymptomatic testing beyond the initial test required to return to campus.
Jan. 31, 2022: Emory moves to yellow operating status, improvement from orange
Campus returned to a yellow operating status on Jan. 31, 2022. Although masking was still required indoors under the yellow operating status, activities and meetings could be held indoors. Additionally, community members were allowed to dine inside and serve food at organized gatherings. Normal operations resumed in athletic and recreational facilities, and spectators were permitted at sporting events.
March 7, 2022: University lifts mask mandate in most indoor spaces
On March 7, 2022, Emory lifted the mask requirement in most indoor spaces, including residence halls, dining spaces and athletic spaces. Emory extended the relaxed policy to classrooms, laboratories and other instructional spaces on March 21, 2022. This was the first time masks would not be required in campus buildings in almost two years, following the University’s adoption of a mask mandate in May 2020.
“People have taken the steps that they need to with vaccinations and boosters to put themselves in a position where we can start to pull back on some of these layers that have been in place over the past two years,” St. Clair said at the time.
Nails said that after the mask requirement was lifted, he saw a mixed response among students, with some happily removing their masks while others were more hesitant. Bates agreed with Nails’ notion.
“I was worried if I was ever in a room or in a class where it was most, if not all, of the students weren’t wearing masks, but I had a good mix of people who weren’t wearing masks and people who were, so I think that kept spreading to a minimum,” Bates said.
Maki said she chose to continue wearing a mask, especially after finally getting her swim season back.
“It was a little scary,” Maki said. “They did it a little too prematurely.”
March 14, 2022: Emory restricts WiFi for students noncompliant with booster requirements
Around 1,300 students faced WiFi restrictions in the week of March 14 after failing to comply with Emory’s booster requirements. Specifically, the restrictions slowed their WiFi and blocked access to nonacademic sites such as social media and video games.
At the time, St. Clair said the restrictions pushed over half of the affected students to either submit proof of vaccination or request an exemption. Students’ WiFi was restored a few days after submitting proof, although exemptions had to be reviewed and approved first, which could take seven to 10 days.
The University later faced national backlash for the WiFi restrictions.
March 18, 2022: COVID-19 cases remain steady after two weeks mask optional
Two weeks after the University lifted its mask mandate for most indoor spaces, including dining facilities and residence halls, COVID-19 cases remained stable among Emory community members. According to Emory’s COVID-19 dashboard on March 18, 2022, there were 35 positive COVID-19 cases among students and faculty over the past 10 days, the same number of cases reported on March 3.
March 30, 2022: Students opt for online course offerings in future semesters, survey reveals
Remote learning during the pandemic introduced many students to online courses. To gauge whether students would like to continue taking some online courses in semesters operating under post-pandemic conditions, Emory College released a survey in February 2022.
According to survey results, about 62% of students would favor taking one or more online classes per academic year. In the survey, students noted that online courses would help with their ability to work, research and have internships. As a result, former Dean of Emory College Michael Elliott said that Emory College would plan to offer some online classes post-pandemic.
May 2, 2022: Shuttles to return to full capacity, University to discuss protocol changes amid increase in COVID-19 cases
Emory shuttles returned to full capacity and began to permit standing riders on May 2, 2022, although masks were still required to ride. Shuttles had been operating at full seating capacity since summer 2021 after the University began limiting shuttle capacity in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.
This decision followed a national reduction in COVID-19 transportation protocols. Although the CDC planned to extend the transportation mask mandate, which went into place in early 2021, to May 3, 2022, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of Florida struck the mask requirement down, ultimately forcing the mandate to expire. The CDC then announced on April 18, 2022 that masks would no longer be required on public transportation conveyances and at transportation hubs.
Amid the change in shuttle capacity, Emory discussed changing its operating status meter, which color-coded campus COVID-19 protocols as green, yellow, orange and red, depending on the severity of cases. The University was also exploring national guidance for second booster doses at the time, St. Clair said at the time.
May 9, 2022: Emory holds in-person, on-campus Commencement for first time since pandemic
Emory held its first in-person, on-campus Commencement for the first time in three years from May 6, 2022 to May 9, 2022. To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, each graduating senior was allotted two guest tickets for their graduation ceremony. In April 2022, Rabinovitz expressed excitement about the upcoming ceremonies.
“It’ll look wonderful and so exciting,” Rabinovitz said at the time. “We’re just over the moon to be able to get back there.”
Aug. 11, 2022: University adopts new COVID-19 operating model
The University unveiled a new COVID-19 operating model on Aug. 11, 2022, replacing the old operating status meter that was characterized by the color-coding system. The new model featured two levels: standard operations and heightened response. The standard operations status asked the Emory community to remain vigilant and follow healthy behaviors such as hand washing. The University would shift to heightened response status and implement stricter protocol in the instance of increased COVID-19 cases on campus.
Aug. 31, 2022: COVID-19 cases increase on campus following summer marred by omicron subvariants
The University saw an increase in COVID-19 cases as students returned to campus for the 2022-23 academic year and attended events such as Songfest, Culture Shock and First Day Fest, with Emory’s COVID-19 Dashboard reporting a 245% increase between Aug. 15, 2022 and Aug. 31, 2022. This was the first notable increase under Emory’s new COVID-19 operating model.
This followed a summer dominated by Omicron subvariants, including BA.5, which accounted for 88.7% of U.S. cases reported in the week ending on Aug. 27, 2022, according to the CDC.
Oct. 3, 2022: University holds off on requiring second booster vaccine, discusses future policies
Emory decided not to require the second COVID-19 booster vaccine, according to a previous email from St. Clair, who wrote that Emory strongly recommended students follow public health guidance. The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the updated COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccine on Aug. 31, 2022.
Maki said that although she believes the second booster should be required, making it accessible to the Emory community is better than nothing.
“I still think it’s important but I do understand,” Maki said. “We’re moving out of the scary part of the pandemic, one would hope, so long as no new variants arise that are as detrimental as the original variants.”
Oct. 3, 2022: University implements mask optional policy on shuttles
Emory lifted the mask mandate on shuttles on Oct. 3, 2022, the only location on campus where masks were required outside of clinical and select research settings.
“Because we’re getting away from COVID, I think that it is optional and by not wearing masks, it’s putting no danger on anyone else,” shuttle driver Calvin Hundley told the Wheel at the time.
Dec. 21, 2022: Emory replaces asymptomatic COVID-19 screeding program with test-and-go kiosks
Emory ended the asymptomatic COVID-19 screening program after 2 1/2 years, with Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 marking the last day to get screening on the Oxford and Atlanta campuses, respectively. To replace the program, the University partnered with DeKalb County to set up three free 24-hour Test-and-Go kiosks, each holding up to 700 tests and open to the public without requiring insurance.
Feb. 9, 2023: Emory lifts vaccine requirement amid COVID-19 policy changes
Nearly three years after Emory shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19, Fenves announced on Feb. 9 that the University would remove its COVID-19 vaccine requirement effective immediately. The requirement was implemented for students in April 2021 and expanded to faculty, staff and post-doctoral fellows in July 2021. The University also required Emory community members to receive the first booster vaccine since the start of the spring 2022 semester.
In this announcement, Fenves mentioned that students, faculty and staff would no longer be required to report positive COVID-19 tests or submit isolation clearance forms before returning to campus. The February policy changes also included lifting COVID-19 vaccine requirements for minors and people participating in non-Emory programs who are staying overnight in on-campus housing.
“The strong commitment by campus members to follow COVID-19 protocols over the past three years allows for transitioning away from mandates to strongly recommending everyone follow all CDC guidelines,” St. Clair previously wrote in an email to the Wheel.
Maki said she does not support removing the reporting requirement for residential students.
“If you’re living in a freshman dorm and you test positive, I think there’s a moral responsibility to report a positive case in terms of your roommate or anybody like your RA,” Maki said.
Nails expressed his admiration for the Emory community’s resilience throughout the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
“No matter what challenges we faced, people were still pushing and thriving to become better and to do more for the campus,” Nails said. “That was just a beautiful thing to me.”
Update (3/15/23 at 6:32 p.m.): This article was updated to include Professor of History Clifton Crais’s 2021 quote about the faculty and staff vaccine requirement in its entirety.