Georgia college students urge online classes as coronavirus fears rise

Overnight, a petition for online classes collected more than 11,000 signatures from Georgia State students fearful of the coronavirus and the risk in attending in-person classes.

Petitions at Emory, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw and Universities of Georgia and North Georgia call for halt to in-person instruction

Students at Georgia TechGeorgia State, the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State, the University of North Georgia and Emory are mounting online petition drives to compel their campuses to halt in-person classes and offer online instruction amid growing fears over the spreading coronavirus.

Dozens of colleges around the country have already announced moves to online classes because of coronavirus concerns.

A petition for online classes at Georgia State University collected nearly 15,000 signatures overnight, helped along by a news story about the effort in the Signal, the GSU student newspaper.

» Latest Atlanta coronavirus news

Students navigate Georgia State University's main campus in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Georgia State University students are urging the campus to follow the example of dozens of colleges around the country and move to online classes in the face of the mounting coronavirus threat. A petition for online classes collected more than 11,000 signatures overnight, helped along by a news story about the effort in the Signal, the GSU student newspaper.  

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

There also appears to a surge in signatures across schools this morning after Fulton County’s decision to shutter all its schools today because a middle school teacher was confirmed to have the highly contagious virus.

The GSU petition states:

Downtown campuses and other campuses of Georgia State University throughout Georgia pose a great risk of infection/transmission of the Coronavirus to both the students and the staff. Close the campuses and offer online classes for all classes until further notice to ensure the safety of all GSU members.

Getting infected with the virus puts families at risk. The downtown campus is located next to a hospital and surrounded by people. Keeping the school open is reckless and is bound to spread the virus unnecessarily. Classes can be offered online and should be for our safety. I do not want to get my family sick and neither do any other students.

The professors and students on campus are at great risk of exposure as GSU hosts numerous commuters from all over Georgia. It is time to be proactive and assume that the lack of testing does not mean a lack of cases. They are out there around us, and they are spreading the virus.

Many colleges have already made the call and have moved or will move to online classes after spring break. Among them are the University of Washington, Harvard, Vanderbilt, Ohio State University; Princeton, Amherst College; Fordham, the University of California, Berkeley; and New York University.

On its coronavirus update page, GSU states:

The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff are our highest priorities, and that's why we've been closely monitoring developments in the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) with a focus on its potential impact on our campuses. Thus far, there have been no cases of COVID-19 reported at Georgia State. Gov. Brian Kemp reported the first two cases in Georgia on March 2.

Health officials around the world are engaged in limiting the threat and impact of COVID-19. We know this is a rapidly evolving situation and we are staying alert to new information and recommendations coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the U.S. Department of State.

Georgia State University undergrad sophomore Emma Berman wears a face mask while navigating the university's campus in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Bearman, a Cobb County resident who has asthma, says she wears the mask for herself but also because her mother has an auto immune disorder. She ordered the mask a few weeks ago and has been wearing it to classes. Bearman works in retail but has opted out of wearing the mask to work. She says her job is allowing workers to wear gloves. 

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Started by GSU student Jason Kusmierz, the Change.org petition allows signers to share their reasons for supporting the petition.

Among the reasons given by GSU students :

-It's irresponsible to wait until someone is confirmed infected. By that time many more could have been exposed and infected also.

-Why are we waiting for someone at the school to catch it when we could take preemptive action before it spreads at the school? I've already decided not to walk at graduation.

-If all Fulton Co schools are closed then we should be too. It's pathetic how colleges are never included in school closings especially with a serious virus going around. Shame on you.

-I take MARTA every day to get to class, seems like a huge risk considering how transient our city is and how many people who just came from the airport will have been on MARTA.

Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia also have Change.org petitions with the same message: Shut down classes and teach online.

In supporting online classes, one Tech student said: “Some of my professors are old and have compromised immune systems, which would make corona dangerous.”

With nearly 3,000 signatures, the Georgia Tech petition states:

With the newly identified positive cases in Fulton County, the well-being of Georgia Tech family is threatened. If the Georgia Tech campus hesitates and does not shut down immediately, COVID-19 will spread throughout the campus before it can be stopped, thereby endangering the lives of all 24,150 students and over 7000 faculty members.

An infected individual may take up to 14 days to show symptoms of COVID-19, therefore the newly identified cases may have already started spreading in the community. Georgia Tech needs to close the campus for at least two weeks and use online teaching tools to protect the students and faculty members.

Among the comments offered by Tech students on why they support shutting down the campus:

-I don't think it's wise to keep such a big campus with so much international focus and diversity open, especially with the current state of resources available to tackle this virus.

-Some of my professors are old and have compromised immune systems, which would make corona dangerous.

-With Fulton County Schools canceled, I am putting my life in danger every single day by attending classes with 100+ students. There is a high probability that a Georgia Tech student has COVID-19. This is a serious matter.

With 544 signatures, the UGA petition says:

With increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia, there are concerns about the potential spread in the local community. There will be students coming back to the UGA campus in a week from other places, including places where state of emergency has been declared due to the coronavirus outbreak. Sign this petition calling on UGA to cancel in-person classes and reduce the risk of coronavirus spread.

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