UGA covid

A sign at the University of Georgia encourages students to vaccinate and mask up.

The University System of Georgia’s acting chancellor says they’re doing everything they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 short of imposing a mask mandate.

The system’s policy encouraging but not requiring students, professors and other employees to get vaccinated and wear masks is in keeping with Gov. Brian Kemp’s position that mandates are divisive, and people should be given a choice.

“Everybody has the ability to get vaccinated,” Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney told the system’s Board of Regents. “Everybody has the ability to wear a mask.”

The university system’s decision not to require vaccinations or masks comes as COVID-19 cases continue increasing at some of the system’s 26 colleges and universities.

Some faculty groups have passed resolutions demanding mask mandates in indoor spaces where social distancing is difficult and have held demonstrations on some campuses.

MacCartney encouraged those demanding mask mandates to remain civil.

“I understand the concerns of some on our campuses and in our communities,” she said. “(But) attacking our presidents and campus administrators is not productive. It will not affect how we make decisions.”

MacCartney outlined steps the university system has taken to discourage the spread of the virus since classes began last month. She said the campuses have distributed 432,000 masks, 942,000 gloves, more than 1,000 gallons of hand sanitizer and more than 313,000 COVID-19 tests.

Most campuses are offering incentives to encourage vaccinations, and turnout at on-campus vaccination sites is on the rise, she said.

“It is an all-court press, and it will continue as long as we battle this pandemic,” she said.

MacCartney said surveys of students and parents found overwhelming support for resuming in-person classes this semester. The campuses shut down in March of last year when the coronavirus pandemic first struck Georgia, and students were forced to rely on virtual instruction.

“(Students) understand the challenges online learning had for them last year,” MacCartney said. “Being on campus, physically able to interact with professors, has a profound effect.”

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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