game day fans

Scenes from inside UGA’s Sanford Stadium before the G-Day spring scrimmage on Saturday, April 17, 2021 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; taylormckenzieg@gmail.com)

As most readers are probably aware, the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents decided it will not mandate the use of masks or require vaccinations to be on USG campuses, the University of Georgia included. They claimed it supported a “safe” return to face-to-face instruction; this comes amid a massive wave of cases of the delta variant of COVID-19, capable of infecting and being transmitted by vaccinated individuals. This has brought a wave which has brought numbers of new cases we haven’t seen since the worst days of the pandemic in 2020. 

How can it be safe to be in an environment filled with susceptible people during a deadly pandemic, and even host football games open to any number of spectators with no public health guidelines whatsoever? In our state alone at least 22,000 have died as a direct result of the disease and 1.4 million have been infected, and our most stringent policy is “encouragement”? Last year the Board mandated masks be worn inside, and this year it’s an infringement on freedom? What caused this total amnesia to the events of the past year? 

Even if we cannot rely on the Board to make accurate decisions regarding the risks of COVID-19, why is it that we also cannot rely on the administration of our university to do any better? Why is President Jere Morehead paid an exorbitant salary of over $900,000 if he is unable to mount the most basic resistance to a policy that endangers the lives of the students, staff and faculty whose interests he is supposed to represent?  

How can we ignore the fact that two weeks ago, both St. Mary’s and Piedmont Athens Regional are unable to accept new ICU ambulance patients entirely? Piedmont has also been unable to accept non-critical ambulance traffic. In this environment we plan to invite tens of thousands of people from across the Southeast to come to our city, assemble into a huge crowd and drink heavily. How can the administration be willing to accept that level of risk to our community? 

In my mind there are only two answers, neither of which is pleasant. The first is rank incompetence, where the people at the top are so unqualified to be making decisions on epidemiology that they truly believe this is an acceptable risk. The second answer, and the one to which I am personally inclined, is that a deeply disturbing level of callousness is on display among our leadership. It’s not expedient to break lockstep with Gov. Brian Kemp’s policy of pretending the pandemic has ended. It’s not profitable or popular to cancel spectator attendance of football games. So instead, they ignore the horrifying human costs.

These football games will sicken or kill Athenians by the hundreds, and that burden will not be equitably distributed. People like Morehead and the Board will be perfectly safe, while people in our city who need to work jobs that bring them into close contact with others will be the most endangered, as will students. The only conclusion I can draw is that the university deems this acceptable because its concern is for the people whose names are on the buildings, not the people inside them.  If the university goes forward with its plans for the semester unaltered, I’ll know with anger and sorrow that my suspicions have been confirmed.