Friday Sep. 17 marked the end of a week long series of protests organized by the United Campus Workers of Georgia and the American Association of University Professors, calling for the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents to mandate masks and COVID-19 vaccinations on Georgia college campuses. The University of Georgia demonstrations hosted a variety of speakers including local healthcare professionals, UGA faculty and staff members, students, county commissioners and Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz.
Professor Allison Howard, who attended multiple protests, feels that mandating masks is an issue of protecting not just those on the UGA campus but around the Athens community as a whole.
“It’s an issue of justice for our community, for protecting people that are vulnerable in our community, for workers here at UGA, for the students that are immunocompromised and for so many people that need to be protected,” Howard said.
In the past seven days, there have been 372 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Athens-Clarke County and 118 new hospital admissions.
Masks remain “strongly encouraged” under the policy set by the USG Board of Regents. Clarke County School District requires masks regardless of vaccination status in all K-12 schools. Additionally, Athens Clarke-County requires masks in all indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status, though businesses can opt out of the local law.
“I don’t think anything in any of our human experience has demonstrated to us more clearly that we are all connected to one another. Whether you’re in third grade like my son, whether you’re in a senior care faculty, whether you’re an undergraduate here, whether you’re a professor, whether you’re a medic or a doctor or a nurse in one of our hospitals, what we do impacts all of us and that’s true throughout the state,” Girtz said in his speech. “I ask the Board of Regents, I ask the Chancellor and I ask for support from Gov. (Brian) Kemp to ensure that the people of this state and of this city and of this campus that we love so much can make it through this.”
Zack Anderson, who is a Ph.D. student in the English department where he teaches an introductory English class, says that mask compliance in his classroom is roughly 25%.
“Politics are being privileged over worker safety,” Anderson said. “I think it’s important to support my colleagues, other instructors, the students in my classes who are concerned about their own health and to be here to support workers around campus, staff that are not instructors.”