Georgia public colleges encourage but won’t require COVID vaccines this fall

Masks not required for fully vaccinated people in campus facilities
Class is taking place outdoor in the University of Georgia campus in Athens shortly after the start of the fall 2020 semester. (Hyosub Shin /



Class is taking place outdoor in the University of Georgia campus in Athens shortly after the start of the fall 2020 semester. (Hyosub Shin /

Students and employees at public universities in Georgia will be “strongly encouraged,” but not required, to get the COVID-19 vaccine for the fall semester.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley sent guidance Thursday to the 26 presidents of those colleges and universities with the recommendation and others involving social distancing on the campuses.

College leaders nationally have been split about whether to require vaccinations, with more private colleges requiring inoculations than public colleges and systems. Georgia’s largest private university, Emory, and Atlanta’s historically Black colleges and universities announced last month they will require students get the vaccine to be on campus. Combined, they have about 25,000 students. Those schools will grant exemptions based on medical conditions or strong personal objections.

The University System has more than 340,000 students. System officials stressed in a two-page memo to the presidents that the guidance is subject to change based on recommendations from the Georgia Department of Public Health or executive orders from the governor’s office.

“Through effective planning, (the University System of Georgia) in the current academic year succeeded in providing in-person instruction and serving students. We will take the same approach to the coming academic year,” the system said in a statement.

The statement added that thousands of COVID vaccine doses have been administered on the system’s campuses.

“We strongly encourage faculty, staff, students and visitors to get vaccinated and will continue to do so. While the vaccines are safe and effective, it is an individual decision to receive one and will not be required to be a part of our campuses.”

08/17/2020 - Kennesaw, Georgia - Kennesaw State University freshmen Simone Wilson (left) and Zee Agnew (right) wear masks as they walk through campus during the first day of classes at Kennesaw State University's main campus in Kennesaw, Monday, August 17, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)


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State officials have gradually rolled back pandemic restrictions, and federal officials announced Thursday fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing, even indoors, except under certain circumstances.

In accordance with those federal guidelines, the system is recommending that fully vaccinated individuals can resume campus classes and other activities without wearing a mask. The system’s memo says unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to continue wearing a face covering while inside campus facilities. Students, faculty and staff who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated against the disease and show no symptoms.

The University System will follow the state government’s rules on travel. Currently, a non-essential travel ban remains in place. The memo says the schools should follow their athletic conference guidelines and schools not affiliated with a conference should develop guidelines appropriate for their institution and its athletes.

With limited exceptions, the memo says employees with COVID-19 related telework assignments should begin transitioning back to their prior work arrangements.