Maskless student gatherings mar return as more Ga. colleges begin this week

A video taken the weekend before classes begin at the University of North Georgia shows students partying at an apartment complex near the campus without masks or social distancing. This is a still from the video

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A video taken the weekend before classes begin at the University of North Georgia shows students partying at an apartment complex near the campus without masks or social distancing. This is a still from the video

Several Georgia universities reopened Monday for the fall semester amid renewed calls for schools to conduct all classes online as videos showing large groups of mostly maskless students partying in close spaces surfaced on social media.

The University of North Georgia said in a statement Monday it was disappointed after a video showed what appeared to be several hundred students partying in an off-campus apartment complex near its Dahlonega campus Saturday night. No one in the video appeared to wear a face mask.

The university has reported 19 students who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since Aug. 1, as some students returned to their dorms in preparation for the semester, which began Monday. There was no one else impacted in some of the diagnosed cases, the university said.

“The University of North Georgia continues to emphasize to our students and university community that everyone has an individual responsibility both on and off campus to follow guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC to prevent the spread of the virus,” the statement said.

The University System of Georgia, which includes North Georgia, in mid-July required students, employees and visitors at its 26 institutions to wear face coverings in classrooms and other spaces on its campuses to reduce potential exposure to COVID-19. The rules do not extend to off-campus spaces.

Still, public health officials and Gov. Brian Kemp have encouraged Georgians to wear face coverings when they can’t socially distance themselves from others.

Georgia College President Steve Dorman emailed students Sunday urging them “to take personal responsibility and do your part to keep yourself and others safe” after several complaints of students partying off campus without masks. Caron Pennington, who lives across the street from the Milledgeville campus, said she saw several young students walking drunkenly outside a house near her home Thursday. No one was wearing a face covering, she said.

“Everything they’re doing on campus is simply negated because they take their masks off as soon as they leave the campus,” said Pennington, who added city police have been slow to respond to resident complaints.

The city’s police chief referred questions for comment to an employee not working Monday.

Georgia College has reported 23 confirmed cases of students with COVID-19 in the last seven days, according to its website.

Photos of large groups identified as maskless University of Georgia students surfaced online as well. UGA begins classes Thursday.

Most of the Atlanta region’s largest private colleges and universities are conducting classes online this semester. On Monday, one of the South’s largest public universities, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, announced it is shifting to online courses for undergraduate students after reporting about 130 student infections during the first week of classes. More than 500 students are in isolation or quarantine.

The United Campus Workers of Georgia started a petition Monday demanding more online courses at North Georgia, enhanced testing measures and for any faculty to work remotely if they prefer to do so.

Many University System schools are offering a hybrid mix of in-person and online courses. The system office does not monitor how individual faculty conduct their classes, a spokesman said Monday, but some faculty claim officials are forcing them to keep their classes in-person if they are designated as such.

At Georgia Tech, where classes began Monday, about three dozen students held an hourlong demonstration against the in-person return plans. They demanded more protective equipment for campus workers and that all classes be held online.

“This is a death march for nothing,” said Margot Paez, a fifth-year doctoral student.

In another part of the Georgia Tech campus, underneath Bobby Dodd Stadium, employees conducted voluntary COVID-19 saliva tests for students and workers. Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera said the goal is to identify asymptomatic carriers. The school hopes to conduct about 1,500 tests a day, he said.

“It gives you peace of mind and it gives us data for our preparations,” said Cabrera, who thanked people as they waited in line for testing.

Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State, which also reopened Monday, have had 186 and 45 confirmed COVID-19 cases, respectively, since early March. In many instances, the infected person was off campus when diagnosed, officials said.

The pandemic forced Kennesaw State to make some changes, particularly its tradition of offering slices of the First Day of School cake. This year, they handed out individually wrapped cookies.



KSU spokeswoman Tammy DeMel said the school is expecting a fall enrollment of about 40,000, which is up from about 38,000 in fall 2019. More than one-quarter of its classes are completely online, she said.

KSU’s Student Government Association posted an infographic on social media explaining the proper way to wear masks. Students appeared to be following the guidelines Monday.



Anngie Villegas and Henna Ganesh, both first-year students who graduated from River Ridge High School in Woodstock, said they are glad to be on campus. They wore masks while lounging on swings across the Campus Green and said they feel more protected with additional precautions in place.

Abby Hayman of Canton, a junior, said she wears a mask when she’s indoors and unable to socially distance herself from large crowds.

”We’re just trying to make the most of it,” she said.

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