The University System of Georgia continues to encourage students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks inside campus facilities, with institutions beginning to report declines in early spikes of positive COVID-19 cases on campuses, according to a news release.
Each of USG’s 26 public colleges and universities continues to monitor COVID-19 positivity numbers. As happened last fall and spring, some campuses experienced increases in positive COVID-19 tests as classes launched for fall semester several weeks ago, the release stated. These increases have typically been followed by declines as the semester has continued, and several USG institutions are reporting similar campus trends now.
Those include Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Clayton State University, Columbus State University, Fort Valley State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Southern University, Kennesaw State University, the University of North Georgia and the University of Georgia, which this week have all reported a decline in cases.
The declines come as USG institutions statewide have ramped up vaccination campaigns for campus communities and stressed continuing health and safety protocols. According to the release, among those efforts, more than 313,000 COVID-19 tests have so far been sent to campuses – a figure that does not include tests developed by campuses on their own or done in partnership with local health partners. The release says an additional 50,000 tests will be distributed soon.
“Thank you to the students, faculty and staff who have gotten vaccinated and taken seriously all we’ve asked them to do to keep themselves and their campuses safe,” Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney said. “We appreciate everyone who’s wearing a mask on campus, staying home when they’re not feeling well, getting tested and, most of all, getting vaccinated. It’s making a difference.”
Among other examples, the numbers of positive cases at Georgia Southern have fallen to 72, down from 113 last week. At the University of Georgia, week-over-week case totals dropped 68%, from 505 cases last week to 164 this week. Georgia Tech’s seven-day rolling average for positivity rates dropped below 1% last week and is currently .5%.
“Whenever we see a decline in cases, we are grateful, and we hope this downward trend holds,” said Dr. Shelley Nuss, campus dean of the AU/UGA Medical Partnership and co-chair of UGA’s Medical Oversight Task Force. “We saw a similar pattern last fall: a peak in cases shortly after we began classes that then fell markedly and leveled off. We hope that with our continued push to encourage vaccinations, testing and masking, our numbers will continue to decline. COVID-19 is a very serious disease, and vaccines remain our best defense.”
As part of their campaigns, a majority of institutions offer incentives for those getting the vaccines. This includes everything from T-shirts and $50 bookstore credits to weekly prize drawings ranging from $100 to as much as $1,000 for those who are fully vaccinated.
The system is offering vaccination incentives to all employees enrolled in a USG healthcare plan. Employees can earn $200 for themselves and $200 for their spouses for a total of $400 through the Well-being credit program through the system’s payroll. USG is also offering paid administrative leave to give people time to get their shots, and as a thank you to those who are already vaccinated.
In addition to promoting vaccination, USG has continued to put resources into mental health and well-being. The No. 1 request from students and families is to keep campuses open, a request focused not only on academics but on students’ mental health, the release states.
Institutions have also increased services to support mental health across campuses statewide through the USG Mental Health Initiative. Launched in August 2020, the initiative is funded by Governor Kemp through the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funding, set aside by the federal CARES Act.
“The declines in positive cases is encouraging, but we know we cannot let up,” MacCartney said. “We will continue to work with the state Department of Public Health and our campuses to ensure everyone has access to testing, PPE and, most importantly, vaccines.”