Facing an uproar from professors, the state system overseeing Georgia universities abruptly changed course on face masks late Monday, mandating students at public universities wear masks in classrooms due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The news came just days after the majority of Georgia Tech faculty revolted over fall reopening plans, saying the previous plan leaving it optional for students to wear masks threatened the health of students, staff and professors.
The University System of Georgia, or USG, said the mandatory face mask requirement will go into effect July 15.
We couldn’t have done it without the students, parents, faculty, and staff who have called, emailed, and pushed the Board of Regents. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/ERWwLvoLQM— #MaskOn USG (@Masks4Usg) July 6, 2020
USG said the new rule will “require all faculty, staff, students, and visitors to wear an appropriate face covering while inside campus facilities/buildings where six feet social distancing may not always be possible.”
“Face covering use will be in addition to and is not a substitute for social distancing,” USG said in a written statement. “Anyone not using a face covering when required will be asked to wear one or must leave the area. Repeated refusal to comply with the requirement may result in discipline through the applicable conduct code for faculty, staff or students.”
Students will not be required to wear face masks in dorm rooms or suites. It will also not be mandatory when a person is alone in an enclosed office or study room or in outdoor settings where social distancing measures are met, the governing body said.
USG also updated its policies on faculty who might need to work from home, saying individuals under the age of 65 who can document that “their age is a determining factor for risk” can also work remotely.
In addition, USG provided a list of 19 underlying conditions, ranging from kidney disease to sickle cell anemia to diabetes, that would qualify for allowing faculty and staff alternate work arrangements.
News of the about-face spread quickly across social media, with professors saying it was a first step in the right direction and that more must be done.
This news is a big relief for the University System of Georgia. Can anyone tell me if the opening line is true? Did the @CDCgov actually update their guidance in regards to masks? Again, I’m not cheering. This is the bare minimum and it took too long. pic.twitter.com/mvSGe6vYIw— Dr. Janet Frick & the 2020 USG Faculty Revolution (@jfrickuga) July 6, 2020
Janet Murray, a digital media professor at Tech, welcomed the change, tweeting the university was “on the road to a much safer and saner Fall 2020.”
More than 800 of Tech’s 1,100 faculty members signed a letter objecting to the mid-August reopening plan, saying it “threatens the health, well-being and education of students, staff, and faculty.”
The uproar was first reported by GPB News.
The faculty’s objections came at a time when the state of Georgia has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. At Tech, nearly a dozen students living in Greek housing near campus have tested positive for coronavirus in recent weeks.
Randall Engle, a psychology professor, said the letter galvanized the Tech community in a remarkable way.
“At no university where I have been,” he said, “have I ever seen the faculty take a position as unified as this one.”
He added, “I want to keep working, but I also want to live."