Georgia colleges not requiring masks on campus as cities issue mandates

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Several Georgia universities will continue to encourage, but not require, masks be worn to curb the spread of the coronavirus on their campuses, despite mask mandates and proposed requirements in the cities where the schools are located.

The University of Georgia’s COVID-19 guidance update Monday comes as the Athens-Clarke County Commission is set to vote Tuesday on a measure that would require mask usage indoors, though it would allow private businesses to opt out. UGA’s main campus is in Athens.

In Atlanta, the home of Georgia Tech, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order last week mandating residents wear a mask when indoors in a public place, even if they have been vaccinated.

Georgia Tech President Àngel Cabrera said in a message posted on the school’s website Monday he does not believe the city’s mandate is applicable to the campus.

“[W]e have received some questions as to whether the executive order recently issued by Atlanta’s mayor requiring masks in public buildings applies to our campus. The answer is no,” Cabrera wrote. “As a state agency, we are subject to directives and guidelines from the state and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.”

The University System has not required COVID-19 vaccinations nor issued mask mandates, following guidance from Gov. Brian Kemp and state public health officials. The 26-school system has offered vaccinations on many of its campuses, also encouraging students to get vaccinated on social media.

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Meanwhile, ERIMAX, a Maryland-based information technology and communications company, announced Monday it’s donating 100,000 medical-grade face masks to Atlanta’s historically Black colleges and universities, which are all private schools.

Colleges and universities in Georgia and elsewhere are under pressure to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks as the highly contagious delta variant has caused an increase in cases statewide and across the country. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, for example, will require face masks at all indoor locations for the fall semester, according to a news account Monday. Locally, Fulton County’s school system announced Monday it will require masks in schools in areas with high COVID-19 case counts. Other metro districts, including Atlanta, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties, are also requiring masks for staff and students.

The differing positions have created inconsistencies in policies at some schools. Savannah State University, which is in the state’s university system, is also encouraging students to get the COVID-19 vaccine and wear face coverings on campus, but not making them requirements. However, the city of Savannah last week issued a mask mandate. The university is also in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is requiring student-athletes be fully vaccinated. A university spokeswoman said Monday the school will follow the conference’s guidance.

The different policies have angered many professors who want mask mandates or mandatory vaccinations on their campuses. Ian Bogost said he left his position in May as a Georgia Tech professor in part because of a lack of COVID-19 protection requirements. Bogost is the new director and professor of film and media studies program at Washington University in St. Louis, which is requiring students and employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is by no means the only reason I left GT, nor the only reason I joined WashU. But it is very much one of the reasons,” Bogost posted on Twitter Monday afternoon.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.