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Anger of University of Georgia students as they are told they must go to class despite cases spike

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The University of Georgia is reporting more than 1,400 new coronavirus cases in the past week, as the virus continues to spread at the university.

The numbers, reported on Thursday, push the 39,000-student university close to 2,600 total infections in the past four weeks, according to the school. 

The university’s outbreak is now the fastest growing among colleges in Georgia publicly reporting numbers.

President Jere Morehead called the trend ‘disturbing’ after saying it was ‘concerning’ last week. He reiterated to students it was their responsibility to follow health rules.

‘Each of us must make sound decisions in the coming days and weeks so that we can turn the trajectory, as we have seen at other institutions in the state,’ Morehead said in a statement.

But students hit back in the University’s student newspaper, The Red & Black, which wrote last week that while a level of blame should fall on students who refuse to socially distance, ‘the blame should not rest entirely on students.’

‘Attending in-person class a couple times a week is a joke. The thought of Sanford Stadium with a quarter of the typical 92,746 fans is a joke. To-go food from Bolton Dining Commons is a joke,’ the University wrote in the strongly-worded editorial.

Students, some wearing face masks, walk on campus at University of Georgia. The University now has the fastest growing campus coronavirus outbreak in the state

‘The University System of Georgia decided to have in-person classes this fall despite the blatant risk it poses to the residents of Athens-Clarke County.

‘UGA needs to stop pretending to uphold a “college experience” that is simply unattainable during a pandemic. 

‘Even bound by the guidelines placed on them by the USG Board of Regents, the administrators at UGA did not create a strong enough plan to keep students and Athens residents safe,’ the statement added. 

While Georgia College & State University has still recorded a larger share of infections among its campus community since Aug. 1, University of Georgia’s outbreak is now the fastest growing.

The surge is clearly reflected in the figures for the broader Athens-Clarke County community, which is 23rd among U.S. counties for the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days, according to figures kept by The Associated Press.

A rising positivity rate suggests things could be getting worse, with eight per cent of surveillance tests conducted to keep an eye on the spread of the virus coming back positive last week, compared to five  per cent the week before. 

On Tuesday, the university announced that it was ramping up its daily surveillance testing efforts, increasing the number from 360 to 450, and inviting randomized groups of student to take a test, prioritising those in campus accommodation.

Pictured: A student, wearing a face mask, enters the school book store at the University of Georgia in Athens, with a sign on the door requesting people wear face masks in the store

Pictured: Signs mark the entrance to the University of Georgia’s COVID-19 testing site in Athens. On Tuesday, the university announced that it was ramping up its daily surveillance testing efforts, increasing the number from 360 to 450

Dr. Garth Russo, executive director of UGA’s University Health Center, hypothesised in a news release last week that as only one faculty member had tested positive, the virus was likely being spread somewhere other than classrooms. 

But not all staff feel reassured by his comments, according to ABC News, with more than 350 faculty members statewide signing a recent petition organized by the state chapter of the American Association of University Professors, calling for the system or individual institutions to move to fully online teaching.

However, each university is mandated to have at least some in-person classes – as mandated by the Board of Regents – and dorms and dining facilities opening at all schools.

Pictured: University of Georgia students wearing face masks gather to protest at City Hall during a ‘Justice for Jacob Blake solidarity with Kenosha’ event in Athens

Georgia College and State University freshmen walk across campus. The university has seen 645 positive tests since August 1, which is still the highest share of campus infections 

Other Universities in Georgia are also experiencing coronavirus outbreaks. Georgia College & State University has seen 645 positive tests since August 1, which is still the highest share of campus infections – but new cases have slowed.

Meanwhile, cases are still rising at Georgia Southern University, which in recent weeks has reported 942 infections, while Georgia Tech has reported 717 cases since the start of August. 

George Tech is urging students who share dorm rooms to move into single rooms.

The growing outbreak at the university comes as case numbers across Georgia continue to fall.

The state is now recording around 1,800 new confirmed cases each day – more than half what was being recorded at its peak in late July.

While this is still above the per-person national average for new infections, Georgia has fallen from being the worst state for new infections to number 11 as of Tuesday.

Over 287,000 infections have been confirmed in the state, which as seen at least 6,128 people die from the virus.

But in a further positive sign, the number of people in hospital with the virus fell below 1,500 on Wednesday, down from the 3,200 peak in July.      

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