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Georgia colleges get 'incomplete' on tracking COVID-19 cases

Some schools are posting daily updates, but the USG says they are not keeping track of coronavirus cases on the state's campuses

ATLANTA — Punts and passes, tackles and touchdowns -- in a normal fall football season, Georgia colleges can track Saturday stats for hundreds of student athletes in real time.

But don't ask Georgia's public-college system for a count of COVID-19 cases.

As thousands of students returned to campuses this month, the University System of Georgia said it had no statewide system for tracking and reporting cases on its campuses. The USG governs the state's 26 public colleges and universities.

By email, Joshua Heidt, the system's legal counsel, said they don't compile numbers on COVID-19 among students and staff from campuses statewide. 

In response to an open-records request from 13WMAZ, Heidt suggested that we contact each of the USG's campuses for their coronavirus numbers.

So 13WMAZ sent open-records requests to the USG's 26 schools and got a wide variety of responses.

Several -- like Georgia Tech, Georgia College & State University and Middle Georgia State University -- are posting case counts and regular updates to their websites.

Others responded by email with a breakdown of student and staff positive cases.

Several colleges either said no cases had been reported on campus or that they had no records to determine whether there were any cases.

And the state's flagship school, the University of Georgia, said they might need until Sept. 1 to produce a campus-wide COVID-19 count.

Last month, the New York Times reported that 390 cases had been reported at UGA, putting them third in the nation. That was before students returned to campus in August.

Between the New York Times' numbers and those reported to 13WMAZ by schools this week, that puts the total number of cases at USG campuses this year to just over 1,200. 

That's about the same as Baldwin County, population 45,000. 

The USG's website claims about 330,000 students last year and about 50,000 employees.

Here's how USG and its colleges responded to 13WMAZ's records request.:

University System of Georgia

"The University System Office does not maintain this data, but each individual institution may maintain the information you are requesting for its respective campus."

Josiah Heidt, Legal Counsel (Aug. 5)

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

The university's website includes an updated count of cases and includes a brief narrative on each.

Through noon Wednesday, they listed 196 cases -- 124 students and 72 staff.

Georgia State University, Atlanta

"Since March, the University’s testing has included only student athletes and symptomatic students through the Student Health Clinic.  Faculty, staff and students have been primarily learning and working remotely since mid-March.  Reporting by those who have tested positive for COVID-19 has been voluntary.  We do not have documents that are responsive to this request, but have received reports of approximately 107 positive cases among employees and students."

Stacey B. Brandenburg, Public Records Officer

(Brandenburg said she could not break down the number of students or staff who reported positive tests.)

Atlanta Metropolitan State College

"As of today (Aug. 13), AMSC has not been notified or received any reports of confirmed COVID-19 cases for any students or staff at Atlanta Metropolitan State College."

Mitzi Williams, Chief Human Resources Officer

University of Georgia, Athens

"As I’m sure you’re aware, Georgia remains under a State of Public Health Emergency. Because of this declaration, offices in the University System of Georgia, including the University of Georgia, have just re-opened. However for social distancing purposes, many staff are continuing to work remotely which may affect our response times for open records requests. Staggered in-office work schedules also may affect our ability to search for, retrieve, review and produce records.

"You have requested “The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases for your school, identified by students & staff.” You further clarified to “Please provide any additional information such as dates reported and demographic information if possible.”

"Please know that we are working on your request and have forwarded it to units/departments where responsive documents may be housed in order for us to obtain a search and retrieval estimate and determine if any exemptions to the Georgia Open Records Act are applicable to your request.

We anticipate having an update for you by Sept. 1, 2020, if not sooner. We appreciate your patience under these circumstances."

Bob Taylor, Division of Marketing & Communications Open Records Manager

Georgia Southern University, Statesboro

By noon Wednesday, Georgia Southern had not provided a number.

Valdosta State University, Valdosta

"I have confirmed that as of today, August 17, 2020,

The number of positive cases for COVID-19 that we have among faculty and staff is 20 since June 1, 2020.

The number of positive based for COVID-19 that we have among students is 7 since August 1, 2020."

Justin M. Arrington, Esq. Interim Chief Legal Affairs Officer

Albany State University, Albany

Joel Wright, the school's chief legal affairs officer, reported by email Wednesday that the school had received reports of 11 students and 16 employees who tested positive.

Augusta State University, Augusta

The university's website lists 34 students and 36 employees had tested positive since Aug. 1.

Clayton State University, Morrow

"Clayton State University does not have records responsive to your request for the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases identified by students and staff. The University is only responsible for providing records that are in our current possession. We are relying on the Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-71(j)) which states, “No public officer or agency shall be required to prepare reports, summaries or compilations not in existence at the time of the request.”

Melody L. Carter, Ph.D. Clayton State University

Columbus State University, Columbus

By email. Craig Burgess of the schools'  Office of Legal Affairs, Ethics, and Compliance reported Tuesday night that 10 students and five employees had tested positive.

Fort Valley State University, Fort Valley

On Monday, Patrice Terrell, the school's open-records officer, reported that 12 students and five staff members had tested positive.

Georgia College & State University

The school's website lists daily updates on COVID-19 cases. By around 6 p.m. Wednesday, dating back to March, they reported a total of 110 cases.

Georgia Southwestern State University

By email, Gena Wilson, human-resources director, reported Monday that the school had three students and six employees test positive.

Kennesaw State University, Marietta

By email, Tammy DeMel, assistant vice president of strategic communications, reported that 45 cases were reported to the school. She did not respond to an email asking for a breakdown on the numbers of students and staff.

University of North Georgia

The university's website lists a running update on cases; at noon Wednesday, they reported 93 students and 36 staff members.

Savannah State University, Savannah

SSU does not have any documents responsive to your request for the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.  

Flora B. Devine, University Counsel  

University of West Georgia, Carrollton

By email, open-records officer Tara Pearson on Tuesday reported 80 cases among students and 18 among staff.

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College

In response to your Georgia Open Records request dated August 12, 2020, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College does not have any information to provide.

Robert Gerhart, VP of Technology / CIO

College of Coastal Georgia, Brunswick

By email, Phyllis Broadwell, assistant vice president, reported 15 students and four staff members had tested positive. 

Dalton State College, Dalton

Based on your Open Records Request we do not have any documents that are responsive to your request. We do have 1 student and 0 employees that have reported a positive COVID-19 case on campus.

Lori McCarty, Assistant Vice President of Human Resources

Georgia Gwinnett College, Gwinnett

The college's website lists 36 "members of the GGC community" who reported positive tests. Their legal office did not respond to an email asking for a breakdown on the numbers of students and staff.

Georgia Highlands College, Rome

By email, Vice President Virginia Siler reported no positive cases among students and three for staff.

Gordon College, Barnesville

An update posted to the school's website at noon Wednesday reports 10 students and no staff members had tested positive.

Middle Georgia State University

On its website Wednesday, the college reports 16 positive cases among students and eight among staff spread over its five campuses.

South Georgia State College, Douglas

By email, Human Resources Director Maria King reported one student and 10 employees had tested positive.

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