UGA is part of the University System of Georgia, which has urged, but not required, students, employees and faculty to get vaccinated and wear masks in classrooms. Gov. Brian Kemp has been outspoken in his opposition to mandates.
UGA noted in a statement that reported positive COVID-19 cases have declined significantly the last two weeks and they are committed to ongoing vaccination efforts, such as ongoing drawings offering $1,000 prizes to people on campus with proof of vaccination. The university’s statement did not directly address potential responses to the faculty group’s planned mask mandate.
“We will continue to strongly encourage vaccinations and the wearing of masks inside our facilities. We are committed to doing everything within our power to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our community,” university spokesman Greg Trevor said in the statement.
UGA, the state’s flagship university, has been the epicenter of the mask mandate dispute. The university has had more reported COVID-19 cases than any school in Georgia this semester. Several faculty members and parents say fewer students are wearing masks on campus. Longtime UGA math professor Joseph Fu, despite letters from administrators threatening disciplinary action, has told students in his classes they must wear masks since the semester started Aug. 18.
Faculty members held rallies at about 20 universities last week hoping to convince state leaders to give the universities latitude to enact mask mandates and other mitigation efforts. The system released data last week indicating a drop in new cases at most of their schools.
UGA genetics professor Jeff Bennetzen, a faculty member since 2003, said he and other professors thought prior discussions with university administrators would have resulted in their desired results. They hope this move will result in some policy changes that improve safety on campus.
“We love the University System of Georgia,” he said. “We love the University of Georgia, but the origin of that love is for the students and employees. It’s amazing to think we know masks work and save lives, yet we aren’t allowed to ask students to wear them in our classes.”