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Thousands push for University System of Georgia institutions to make masks mandatory

USG says they "strongly encourage" everyone to wear a mask, in a statement to 13WMAZ.

MACON, Ga. — The University System of Georgia says they're not requiring masks at any of their 26 university campuses during the continued coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement to 13WMAZ, a USG spokesperson says instead, they're strongly encouraging masks. 

Thousands of people, including students, faculty and staff, are now pushing the University System of Georgia to require face masks on campus in a petition. As of Thursday evening, that petition has over 3,000 signatures. 

"Wearing a mask for a couple minutes or a couple hours isn't going to kill you. The virus will," said Alex Vining, a Georgia State University student from Warner Robins. 

Though USG isn't requiring masks, some colleges are offering them. For instance, Georgia College and State University is giving each student two face masks. The University of Georgia is doing the same and also giving a digital thermometer.

"If we're going to all this expense, why don't we just require it? It has a scientific, proven benefit," said Nathan Graham, a Georgia College and State University student. 

Sydney Phillips, a student at the University of Georgia, is one of the people who started the petition. She says the mandate would serve as a precedent for all Georgia students.

"I think a lot of students want to wear masks, but they're afraid of being the outlier," Phillips said. "So this kind of sets a regulation and expectation that students should be doing this."

Several other public colleges across the country have already put in place that requirement.  UGA Professor Janet Frick and other faculty members made a spreadsheet, showing other universities' mask policies. The University of Florida, University of Virginia, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill are all requiring students, faculty and staff to wear face masks on campus. 

"The problem is without a mandatory expectation both for students and faculty, frankly," Frick said. "It just leaves too much potential risk for students who have hidden health problems or students who live with extended family members who have health risks."

With that, Frick says she's not teaching unmasked students in person.

"It's the equivalent of asking a student to enter an unsafe environment. I wouldn't ask students to enter a classroom where they had a classmate who refused to stop smoking."

Even if USG doesn't require masks in the fall semester, Phillips says this petition brings awareness to the fact you're wearing a mask to protect others. 

"We have to remember this isn't just about students and about faculty members," Philips said. "This is something that impacts the communities around us."

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