The University System of Georgia will now require face masks on campus as schools plan to welcome back students this fall.
As COVID-19 cases continue to trend in the wrong direction, the USG says it will require students, faculty, staff and visitors to wear a face covering inside campus buildings. Mask use will be in addition to, and not a substitute for safe social distancing, the system said Monday.
“Anyone not using a face covering when required will be asked to wear one or must leave the area,” according to a news release. “Repeated refusal to comply with the requirement may result in discipline through the applicable conduct code for faculty, staff or students.”
The new policy takes effect July 15, and excludes areas such as dorm rooms, enclosed offices and suites.
The move comes amid mounting pushback from hundreds of Georgia Tech professors, who, in a strongly worded letter, voiced their collective concern over the university’s decision not to make face masks mandatory for the upcoming fall semester, 11 Alive reported.
Faculty members criticized the current reopening plan, saying it “threatens the health, well-being and education of students, staff, and faculty,” according to the letter dated July 2. The university, nestled near the heart of Atlanta, previously announced plans to welcome students back on Aug. 17, per the 2020 academic calendar.
Georgia Tech plans to offer both online and in-person classes.
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“We are alarmed to see the Board of Regents and the University System of Georgia mandating procedures that do not follow science-based evidence, increase the health risks to faculty, students, and staff, and interfere with the nimble decision-making necessary to prepare and respond to Covid-19 infection risk,” professors wrote in the letter, which, as of Tuesday, had been signed by more than 860 of the 1,100 faculty members at Georgia Tech.
“As academic faculty of Georgia Tech, we assert our fundamental professional and ethical responsibility to provide for the health and safety of students and the integrity of the educational process,” they added.
Faculty were already wary about the return to campus, especially as Georgia and other parts of the country see a spike in new coronavirus cases, GPB reported. The virus has already hit close to home with “nearly a dozen students living in Greek housing” near Tech’s campus testing positive in recent weeks, according to the outlet.
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“To say that the faculty have to wear masks but to make it voluntary for students is a real problem,” psychologist Randall Engle, who’s taught at Tech for over 20 years, told GPB. “That makes me more vulnerable in a crowded room of students where one of them might have COVID.”
“I want to keep working, but I also want to live,” Engle, 73, added.
Before the USG’s reversal Monday, Tech professors weren’t the only ones calling for a mask mandate.
Long-time University of Georgia psychology professor Dr. Janet Frick was spearheading what she calls the “2020 USG Faculty Revolution.” The movement gained support from various Georgia institutions including Georgia Tech and others.
In a tweet, Frick said the mask mandate was a “relief” but called it the “bare minimum” and said more needs to be done.
“In the end, this boneheaded policy accomplished something much needed: it has connected faculty across the USG,” she wrote. “Big props to all the people who worked on this: the colleagues who helped me create our initial data spreadsheet, everyone who wrote emails and made phone calls, the students at @Masks4Usg, and the kick-ass Georgia Tech faculty who tipped the scales today.”
On Monday, the state Department of Public Health reported more than 97,000 cases across the Peach State and more than 2,800 deaths. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are also on the rise, data show.