Faculty urge Georgia campuses: Mandate vaccines and masks

Public institutions open without requirements for students to mask up or be vaccinated
Masks are recommended at the state's campuses, but not mandated. Neither are vaccinations against COVID-19. (AJC Photo)

Masks are recommended at the state's campuses, but not mandated. Neither are vaccinations against COVID-19. (AJC Photo)

I believe institutions of higher education must be committed to facts and science and educate not only students, but state leaders to what is important, true and necessary.

What’s important, true and necessary now is that Georgia is seeing a resurgence of the coronavirus, especially among the unvaccinated. We also understand the best defenses against COVID are vaccinations and masks. And we know about half of new COVID cases in Georgia are among 18- to 39-year-olds, and more young people are being hospitalized.

As Amber Schmidtke, a public health expert who studies Georgia’s pandemic data, said in her most recent state COVID update, “The other thing that is alarming is the steady increase we’re seeing for hospital admissions among 18- 49 year olds. So as much as younger adults may have been lulled into a sense of complacency, believing that COVID-19 isn’t that bad for younger adults, it’s clear from the data that 18 - 49 year olds are not invincible. Not to mention that these hospitalizations come with significant financial costs that add to already existing economic strain for people trying to pay student loans, etc. Meanwhile, the vaccine, a lifesaving tool, is free.”

While other campuses around the country are requiring vaccinations and masks, the state’s public campuses are insisting on neither. The University System of Georgia employs doctors, biologists and chemists. It also educates our future scientists and health professionals. Yet it chooses to ignore their entreaties and evidence for mandatory vaccines and masks.

Many public college professors and staff have young children at home. Even fully vaccinated, these professors can get a COVID-19 breakthrough infection from one of their students and transmit the virus to their children at home under the age of 12 for whom there still is no approved vaccine.

Given Georgia hospitals are at capacity with sick COVID patients, it’s alarming our public colleges and universities are opening without mask mandates. It speaks to the power of state-level politics to coerce college leaders to endanger their students and staffs even though they know better.

As the AJC reported, Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney told the Regents last week the University System is recommending people get vaccinated, noting that’s been the advice from Gov. Brian Kemp, who has been adamant he won’t enact any statewide mandates. The schools have signs posted on their campuses asking people to wear masks if they have not received the vaccine.

Here is a letter signed by nearly 4,000 faculty, staff and students to MacCartney and Board of Regents Chairman Sachin Shailendra. Many of the signees are in the science fields.

Dear Chancellor MacCartney and Chairman Shailendra,

I am writing on behalf of the USG Regents Advisory Council for Biological Sciences and the over 3,600 signers of the following Open Letter:

The slow rate of vaccination in the state of Georgia has exacerbated the risk of COVID infections from the Delta and other variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Safely returning to face-to-face instruction on USG campuses requires mitigation of risk for COVID disease. The two most effective means for COVID risk mitigation are vaccination and use of ASTM2- or ASTM3-rated face masks in indoor settings. As life scientists, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID disease fall in our domain of expertise.

We have a duty to our students and to our faculty and staff colleagues to maintain their health and safety. We also have a duty to counter misinformation and politicization about topics within our expertise; such misinformation and politicization prevents a safe environment for learning and working. We call on the BOR to require vaccinations against COVID-19 for all students, faculty, and staff of USG, in accordance with current BOR policy.

We further call on the BOR to follow CDC guidelines and allow presidents of individual USG campuses in areas of substantial or high community transmission to require ASTM2 or ASTM3 rated face masks in campus indoor settings.

The undersigned agree and support the recommendations of the Biological Sciences Advisory Council to require vaccinations and masking in indoor public spaces on USG facilities.

For a more accurate count of signatures, please refer to this live link:

We ask that you please share this Open Letter with the Board members, and it is our hope that the University System of Georgia Board of Regents will reconsider the current COVID mitigations in light of these recommendations.


Indiren Pillay, PhD

Past Chair, USG Regents Advisory Council for Biological Sciences