We, who are tenured faculty of the University of Georgia, feel compelled by our consciences and our integrity, both personal and professional, to state the following:
The resumption of in-person instruction at the University of Georgia as currently planned is unwise. It is not grounded in evidence nor in the recent experience of other peer universities. Regardless of the precautions taken by the University on campus, both projections and experience suggest that a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 is inevitable unless there is an immediate change in plans for the fall semester.
The evidence is as follows:
Georgia is, as of Aug. 15, 2020, currently the No. 1 state in the U.S. for the highest number of new daily cases per 100,000 population, at 29.9 (Harvard Global Health Institute).
Georgia is, as of Aug. 15, 2020, currently the No. 1 state in the U.S. for the highest percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 victims (Department of Health and Human Services).
158 out of 159 counties in Georgia should be under a shelter-in-place order, as per the Harvard Global Health Institute risk tool.
The experience is as follows:
When state universities have attempted to resume in-person instruction, in states with lower COVID-19 transmission rates than Georgia, outbreaks have occurred:
The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (13.8 new daily cases/100K population as of 8/15/20).
Oklahoma State University (17.1 new daily cases/100K population as of 8/15/20).
[Editor’s Note: Data discoverable here by clicking the box for the desired state on the left side of the screen under “Geolocation;” the numbers will show up in the box under “Confirmed Cases” above “Geolocation” and on the right side of the screen next to where the state(s) are listed. The data are continuously updating 7-day running averages; the numbers listed in this petition are accurate as of Aug. 15, 2020.]
The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has decided to pivot indefinitely to all-virtual learning as a result of outbreaks on campus that led to over 170 confirmed COVID-19 cases after just one week of in-person instruction.
The projections are as follows:
Dr. John Drake, UGA Distinguished Research Professor and Director, Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, has simulated the impact of the reopening of UGA on the number of cases of COVID-19. His results indicate that hundreds of students will arrive on campus who are actively infectious.
Furthermore, Dr. Drake’s results indicate that, with or without precautions being taken on campus, the virus will spread to tens of thousands of UGA students, staff, and faculty within two months or less of the reopening. This is because the amount of time students spend on the UGA campus in classrooms is a small fraction of the time students spend with each other, particularly off-campus.
In short, the resumption of in-person instruction at UGA as planned is unwise and misaligned with evidence-based COVID-19 health guidelines. Depending on the ability and will of leadership to end this course of action, sooner rather than later, in-person instruction and the presence of students in Athens is likely to lead to hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of COVID-19 victims, with collateral health impacts on Athens-Clarke County, its hospitals and the region at large.
Cardinal Newman famously stated, “A university is… an Alma Mater, knowing her children one by one, not a factory, or a mint, or a treadmill.”
A great university does not follow; it leads. And when the safety of its own, and those around it, are threatened, a great university learns from the mistakes of others and carves a new and better path based on science and truth. We urge the University Council to hold the UGA administration to the resolution approved last week, and to revisit the failed resolution presented by the Franklin College and Mary Frances Early College of Education Faculty Senates.
May the University of Georgia lead in this time of crisis, and do right by its students, staff and faculty.