As Georgia sets records for its daily number of COVID-19 cases, the state’s public university system wants to bring more students back to campuses this semester. However, the United Campus Workers Union of Georgia says officials need to do more to ensure students’ and workers’ safety.
The Board of Regents passed a resolution in October, stating each campus is to “maximize safe in-person instruction.”
During the board’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley praised schools’ re-openings in the fall. He said they’re well-prepared for the spring semester.
“Institutions are reminding students, faculty, and staff of the behaviors to practice to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus: wearing a mask, staying at least six feet apart, washing hands often, not attending large gatherings, and monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms,” he said.
Wrigley urged schools not to let their guard down due to ‘pandemic fatigue.’
Since October, COVID-19 cases have spiked in Georgia. Amelia Wheeler is a graduate student at the University of Georgia and the event coordinator for the union’s chapter there. During a virtual press conference Tuesday, Wheeler said by pushing for more students to return to campus, the university system is ignoring the fact that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the virus.
“Not only is maximizing in-person, face-to-face instruction out of touch with the larger context within which we’re operating, but it’s also directly speaking against USG’s supposed commitment to racial justice,” she said.
The union wants the university system to take three steps: ensure safe campuses by implementing rules like mandatory COVID tests, promising not to lay off workers during the pandemic, and giving hazard pay to campus workers. Officials haven’t agreed to those demands. The union also wants campuses to spend the first two weeks of the spring semester in remote learning to give staff and students a chance to quarantine after winter break. While some students may have a few days or weeks before the semester starts, others, like Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University, have already begun classes.
Later Tuesday, the USG announced Wrigley would retire July 1. He’s led the university system since 2017.