Students, faculty urge Georgia university system to mandate masks, vaccinations



A number of students and faculty of Georgia’s public university system are urging leaders to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, the wearing of masks or both measures to prevent the spread of the disease as classes began at some of its schools this week.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition started last week by the Regents Advisory Council for Biological Sciences supporting the additional safety protocols. The United Campus Workers of Georgia, Local 3265, said they have about 500 signatures on a petition calling for similar measures. A group of about 10 United Workers members demonstrated before Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting.

“Put on a mask, it’s not too much to ask,” they chanted.

The public University System has recommended, but not required, vaccinations, saying in part they’re following state and federal public health guidelines. The 26 schools in the system want those who haven’t been vaccinated to wear masks on campus. The system’s acting chancellor, Teresa MacCartney, restated the system’s position during Tuesday’s meeting and noted many campuses offer vaccinations.

Credit: Eric Stirgus /

Credit: Eric Stirgus /

Few of the University System’s largest schools have data breaking down how many students on their campuses have been vaccinated.

The University of Georgia, the state’s flagship school, reports on its website that 13,155 individuals have been fully vaccinated and more than 24,000 vaccines have been administered. Georgia Tech reports online that 17,305 individuals have been fully vaccinated and nearly 33,000 vaccines have been administered. Kennesaw State University, in partnership with Wellstar Medical Group, has administered more than 16,000 doses to students, faculty and staff.

The numbers aren’t separated by students and employees, the schools said. UGA and Georgia Tech, respectively, had about 50,000 and 48,000 students, faculty and employees on their campuses last year. KSU had about 41,000 students last fall, the second-highest enrollment in the state, and nearly 3,300 employees.

Augusta University, the system’s medical school, has vaccinated about 6,000 students. It enrolled about 9,500 students last fall. Clinical students became eligible for vaccination in the first phase, which started with the first shipment of vaccine in December. Other students became eligible on March 25, when Gov. Brian Kemp expanded eligibility to Georgians 16 and older. Some students with preexisting conditions were eligible a bit before that.

The schools noted the vaccination numbers may be higher because some people may have had access to the vaccine through other healthcare providers.

Young adults have been among the most reluctant groups to get vaccinated, according to federal data. That has worried public health experts since approximately half of new cases in Georgia are among 18- to 39-year-olds and more young people are being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Schools at all levels have grappled with implementing such mandates. Many Atlanta-area public school districts have required students to wear masks as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have increased across the nation in recent weeks. Several private colleges and universities in the area are mandating vaccinations to be on their campuses this fall semester.

Jill Penn, a Georgia Gwinnett College associate biology professor who is a United Campus Workers leader, said the group will continue to voice its concerns.

“We hope that we can communicate how important a mask mandate is right now,” she said in an interview before the demonstration. “It’s really a simple policy that can save lives.”