ATLANTA — Despite calls to do so, the University System of Georgia isn’t budging from its unwillingness to order masks, vaccines or COVID testing when classes start next week.
It's in contrast to the approach taken by the University of Georgia 31 years ago.
In 1990, the outbreak was measles. At the University of Georgia, enough cases had surfaced that the school, with the blessing of the state, required vaccinations for every student and faculty member under the age of 24.
"As the (state) Department of Human Resources has indicated, we have a medical emergency here and we have to take take it seriously," Charles Knapp, the university president at the time, told 11Alive News in May 1990.
Knapp ordered that anybody at UGA who didn’t comply with the vaccine mandate would be banished from campus — grades withheld from students, paychecks withheld from employees.
It wasn’t a big deal. The student newspaper’s headline May 22, 1990 was about student loans. On page two of The Red and Black, there was a brief story about the suspension of 406 students and 37 employees the previous day for failing to get the measles vaccine.
"What it shows is that in 1990, this was a non-issue. We had a public health situation and a readily available treatment," said Janet Frick, a current UGA professor who posted about the 1990 vaccination program on Twitter. "It was just a very no-nonsense approach to this is what we need to do."
Georgia’s universities open next week amid a stubborn and still-deadly COVID-19 pandemic. This year, under a Board of Regents appointed by Republican governors, the state is encouraging, but not requiring, vaccines nor requiring masks.
"It is frustrating and unnecessary that we are being prevented from implementing those practices on our campuses next week," Frick said.
Many Republican leaders in Georgia view mandates for vaccinations and masks as anti-freedom. Frick says one of her first classes next week will put three hundred students together in an auditorium – with optional masks and optional vaccines.