Mask mandate lifted across USG campuses

Students gather around a booth table in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons. On May 17 the University System of Georgia announced that vaccinated students, faculty and staff can resume campus activities without a mask. // Photo by Alex Dubé Student Publications

Tech students throughout the past year had to establish slightly different routines as they have prepared for their in-person lectures or study sessions in the library. They had to grab all of the quintessential items: a pen, a laptop, a notebook and most importantly, a mask, to be allowed inside all academic buildings.

As of May 20, this key part of their routine may not be as necessary. The Institute Operations Update made a key announcement following a guidance update from the University System of Georgia (USG).

The USG update on May 17 was brief: “Fully vaccinated individuals can resume campus classes and other activities without wearing a mask.

Unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to continue wearing a face covering while inside campus facilities.”

The subsequent Tech operations update was longer and went into detail regarding not only the update in face covering requirements, but also cleaning protocols, lab guidance, vaccine distribution and surveillance testing.

“Throughout the pandemic, Georgia Tech has been able to contain virus spread through careful planning, by developing innovative solutions, and by being responsive to guidelines put forth by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the CDC, along with the cooperation of Georgia Tech community members in vaccinations and testing,” the update reads.

“Our success in this new phase will also depend on students, faculty, and staff continuing to respect each other and taking measures to help protect their personal health.”

The decision made by USG and the Institute followed the May 13 recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear masks.

According to the CDC website, “If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic. Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

This sudden, full-steam reopening came as a shock to many Americans. Some felt a flood of relief, while others, anxiety.

Some, including Professor Janet Murray of the school of Literature, Media and Communication, see the need for mandatory vaccines across USG campuses. In fact, Murray started a petition for the cause, which now has over 2,500 signatures from 22 campuses across Georgia as of June 2.

“We believe a policy of mandated Covid-19 vaccinations … is necessary to protect the health of our campuses and the larger Georgia community, and particularly those who are unable to be vaccinated because of other health vulnerabilities, and that such a policy reflects the judgement of science and public health professionals,” the petition reads.

“Given that the same USG policy explicitly allows for the requirement of vaccinations during an epidemic, we request the Chancellor and Board of Regents to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations not just for students but for everyone on USG campuses starting in Fall 2021 or as soon as an available Covid-19 vaccination is given full approval by the FDA, which is the usual
legal standard for such mandates.”

As the pandemic wraps up in the U.S., Tech students, as well as many others, are wondering how to proceed in their everyday lives.

The constant conundrum is whether to ditch the mask or keep wearing it. And as Tech moves into the Fall semester with full force, only time will tell what the answer is.