The University System of Georgia has announced a two week suspension of instruction beginning March 16 in an email to the presidents of all USG institutions. The message was forwarded to the University of Georgia community.
The email said students currently on spring break are “strongly encouraged” not to return to campus. Students were also asked to “remain away” from campus between March 13 to March 29. However, students are not required to move out of their dorms for the semester.
The suspension from instruction will allow USG institutions ”to test their business continuity plans and online instruction modules and for state officials to continue to assess the current situation regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) in Georgia,” the email said.
A separate email sent to UGA faculty, staff and students said people who traveled outside of the U.S. over spring break “must not return to a UGA campus or facility.” The email noted that the U.S. State Department has declared a Global Level 3 Health Advisory, which advises U.S. citizens to reconsider all travel abroad. People who have traveled abroad within the last 14 days must self-quarantine until asymptomatic for 14 days, the email said.
According to the email, the University Health Center will remain open during the temporary suspension for students seeking medical assistance. Additionally, students and employees are required to notify the UHC in the case of a positive COVID-19 test.
The email said for students, failure to self-quarantine could result in a temporary barring from campus, exclusion from university activities and/or referral to the Office of Student Conduct. Employees are required to abide by these policies as part of their employment, the email said.
At 12:14 p.m., the USG announced in an email that “all 26 USG institutions will remain open for face-to-face education at this time” amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. The email added that UGA plans “to resume normal class operations” on March 16.
The USG announcement came minutes before Gov. Brian Kemp announced the first COVID-19-related death in Georgia in a press release. The victim was a 67-year-old man who was hospitalized at WellStar Kennestone on March 7 and had underlying medical conditions.
USG has consulted with the Georgia Department of Public Health, which advised that “the risk of contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Georgia remains low,” according to the message. UGA faculty were instructed to prepare remote learning materials on March 5 in case of disruption caused by the virus outbreak.
This decision to keep campuses open contrasted several universities’ campus closures and transitions to remote learning across the country.
However, the initial message was met with backlash from people on social media — students urged each other to call USG and President Jere Morehead’s office on Facebook, Twitter and GroupMe.
Emory University, a private university only miles from USG schools Georgia State University and Georgia Institute of Technology, extended its spring break and plans to transition to remote learning on March 23. Vanderbilt University canceled in-person classes until March 30, and the University of South Carolina canceled classes and campus events until March 22.
Prompt closures and campus evacuations drew criticism from the student bodies at universities across the country, such as Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, where The Harvard Crimson and The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that students on housing and dining plans were scrambling to find solutions under short notice.
Several school districts announced closures following a news conference held by Kemp, in which he told school administrators to consider the option of closing temporarily; however, he reiterated that it was not a “mandate.”
Fulton, Cobb, Floyd and Marietta are among the school districts that announced school closures, according to a list compiled by 11Alive.
The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11. As of press time, Georgia has 12 confirmed and 19 presumed positive cases of COVID-19, according to the Georgia DPH.