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Workers, students plead with UGA to require COVID-19 precautions

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    Around 100 people attended the event, which was hosted by the United Campus Workers of Georgia association. LANCE McCURLEY/Staff
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    Francis, 30, is a PhD candidate student at the University of Georgia. He attended the gathering with a sign of his own, expressing his viewpoint.. LANCE McCURLEY/Staff

ATHENS – Around 100 people – who were mostly campus officials, staff and students – gathered outside of the office of University of Georgia president Jere Morehead’s office dressed in all black as they held a “silent funeral” in protest of the school not requiring COVID-19 precautions.

Some of the signs the attendees were holding read “Sick as a dawg” or “Here lies the public trust.”

UGA began classes on Wednesday, Aug. 18, with no mask mandate. Since the first day of class, the university has reported 231 cases of COVID-19 on campus from the week of Aug. 16-23, according to the UGA Health Department.

Last year, the university required masks on campus and social distancing in classrooms. However, in May, UGA announced it was returning to its normal business operations.

The Lake Oconee News reported last week that the Morgan Medical Center in Madison had no available beds for treatment. The St. Mary’s Good Samaritan hospital in Greensboro was also having trouble keeping beds open for patients with the onslaught of COVID-19 cases rising in the area. Putnam General Hospital in Eatonton didn’t respond to multiple calls for COVID-19 information, but it did have a limited number of beds, too.

All three Lake Country hospitals don’t have Intensive Care Units (ICUs), which have the facilities for treating severe cases of COVID-19. So, if the case load keeps rising in the area, all three won’t be able to handle the surge. Patients will have to be rerouted to hospitals in the Classic City like St. Mary’s and Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, which are already struggling to keep beds available.

With UGA back in session – and nearly 100,000 visitors set to visit town for the first home football game on the weekend of Sept. 11 against UAB – case numbers are slated to keep going up.

That reason is why the United Campus Workers of Georgia organized “A Funeral for Health and Safety at UGA” on Friday, Aug. 27.

Montgomery Wolf, a professor in UGA’s Department of History, pointed out that she hopes the demonstration gets the administration’s attention.

“Our demands are that we want a mask mandate for everybody on campus that are indoors,” Wolf said. “It shouldn’t be up to individual faculty members or staff to enforce a safety policy.”

Wolf also said that, because the FDA recently approved of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, there should be a mandate for them as well.

“We have it for many other vaccines like the MMR or meningitis,” she added. “So, also for those who qualify for an exemption, if they’re not able to get the vaccine, then they should be subject to regular testing.”

Wolf highlighted that those are the group’s two most important demands.

“We feel like there’s been a real failure by both the University System of Georgia (USG) and the upper administration here at UGA as well,” Wolf said. “The Board of Regents oversees the USG, which implemented a policy across the state prohibiting a mask mandate.”

Michael Francis, who is a graduate student and PhD candidate focusing on Nutrigenomics and Bioinformatics, stood nearly 20 yards away from the participants. He held up a sign that read “my body, my choice” and went back and forth with participants about the mandate.

“A mandate on a vaccine or any medical product that has existed for more than a year is unprecedented in this country,” Francis said. “There are plenty of people who can manage their own health.”

Francis stated that cloth masks, which were being worn by most of the event attendees, don’t work.

“The masks that most of these people are wearing are ineffective,” Francis said. “They have a fitness factor of two, which compared to an N95 mask, has a fitness factor of 100.”

Francis highlighted that cloth masks easily allow water droplets to escape, which could allow the particles to pass on to another person.

“A mandate on masks that essentially don’t even work is ridiculous,” he added. “…The science is not clear enough to say that everyone ought to be wearing masks.”