On Aug. 17, 2020, Athens-Clarke County reported 14 cases of COVID-19. Cases had been on the decline for the past week. Just 21 days later, ACC recorded 277 cases in one day, setting an unbroken record. The same pattern happened in 2021, with cases shooting up in late August and early September, aided by the spread of the delta variant.
“These UGA kids are everywhere, so now if you go to Walmart, it’s full of unmasked people,” Cedar Shoals orchestra teacher Rebbeca Floyd said.
Other Athens locals and UGA professors are not happy about students’ conduct either. Dr. David Peterson, a professor at the University, says COVID-19 precautions are common sense, like road rules.
“The rule says we drive on the right side of the road, we all do that. We don’t even think about it and I don’t see anybody complaining about that,” Peterson said.
There has been significant backlash against the University and its policies, including a “die-in” in Aug. 2020 where protesters laid on the ground in front of the UGA Administration Building. Last month over an entire week, UGA staff participated in protests across the university system with daily demonstrations and speeches near the Tate Center.
UGA sophomore Olivia O’Brien attended one of these protests. She says her classes are full of maskless students.
“Like a class of 110, I’m one of maybe 10 (wearing masks), and it’s shoulder to shoulder in a small lecture hall, so there’s no social distancing,” O’Brien said.
The University System of Georgia Board of Regents (USG) has no official mask mandate or vaccine mandate for public Universities in Georgia. UGA has also refused to enforce one. This lack of enforcement, says Russian and European history professor Joseph Killmer, are the main reason that mask wearing is unpopular among the student body.
“This is admin’s fault. It’s a policy fault. We shouldn’t have to be enforcing public health guidelines in the classroom. It’s not our job,” Killmer said.
The lack of precautions at UGA has frustrated the broader community at Cedar Shoals, especially after the school shut down for a week of virtual instruction from Sept. 7-10 as community spread of the virus remained high.
“If high schoolers and middle schoolers and elementary kids can wear masks in class all day, then certainly a college kid can wear it two days a week in their three classes,” Floyd said.
Some students at Cedar Shoals are frustrated with UGA as well.
“I was really mad that the students felt so entitled, like they feel like they’re living in a little community or little bubble by themselves,” senior Aseel Mansour said. An intern at the University, Mansour says that during the weekdays when students are there, she “feels kind of unsafe.”
Cynthia Hoover, Cedar Shoals math department, says that while UGA students have an obligation to be good citizens, “they’re also college students living away from home full time and trying to make their way into adulthood.”
While it seems that many UGA students refuse to follow mask recommendations, others, like O’Brien, follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
“I have to say I’m struck by, in general, how conscientious they (UGA students) are,” Dr. Peterson said.