Masks will now be required on university campus as some UWG faculty and staff petition the state Regents to let them make their own procedures for re-opening universities in the fall.

An online petition created by the UWG's American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has reached nearly 200 signatures according to Matt Franks, president of the AAUP at the University of West Georgia. This petition is meant to represent faculty, staff, and administrators of the university who are concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and the plan by the University System of Georgia (USG) to re-open schools.

A letter to Chancellor Steve Wrigley and Members of the Board of Regents of USG asks for two things: to give UWG and every USG institution the option to require face coverings on campus and to give individual faculty and staff the option to teach and work from home for any reason.

On Monday evening, the university announced that starting July 15, all USG institutions, including UWG, will require all faculty, staff, students, and visitors to wear an appropriate face covering while inside campus facilities and buildings where six feet social distancing may not always be possible.

Face coverings are not required in a student’s own residence hall room or suite, when alone in an enclosed office or study room, or in campus outdoor settings where social distancing requirements are met.

Anyone not using a face covering when required will be asked to wear one or must leave the area. Repeated refusal to comply with the requirement may result in discipline through the applicable conduct code for faculty, staff, or students.

“In this time of unprecedented crisis, we implore you to allow individual institutions and employees to make these critical decisions for themselves, guided by CDC recommendations. This is not a time to bow to political considerations, but to do what is required to protect the health and safety of our campus communities,” says the petition.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused all USG institutions to shift from face-to-face instruction in the spring and summer semesters, but the university plans to return to in-person instruction on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

UWG is not the only institution within USG petitioning for autonomy. Faculty at the Georgia Institute of Technology on July 2 published their own petition also making similar requests as UWG. By July 5, their petition reached over 2,000 signatures.

A third petition entitled "Safer and More Equitable Higher Education Upon Return to Campus" on the website created by the United Campus Workers of Georgia also is asking the Board of Regents to mandate and provide masks, not require face to face instruction, and have free, frequent and accurate COVID-19 testing available. This petition had received approximately 8,700 signatures by Monday evening.

Cases of COVID-19 have been steadily increasing over the past several weeks within Carroll County and hospitalizations for the virus have also been up, according to officials at Tanner Health System. As of Monday, there had been a total of 864 positive cases in the county, approximately 200 of which occurred within the last 14 days, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“The current working plan is for students, faculty, and staff to return to in-person operations and instruction for the Fall 2020 semester. However, plans have been developed if guidance is received to begin classes fully online or transition to online at some point during the semester,” according to the university’s reopening plan website page.

Any employees who are deemed high-risk are in contact with Human Resources about appropriate accommodations, according to both Franks and the re-opening website.

Franks said, however, that this plan does not cover everyone on campus -- including those who may live with those who are high-risk -- as they will have to continue face-to-face instruction and conduct their work on campus under the current plan.

The online petition by Monday afternoon had reached 175 signatures, and for those who opted to make their signature public, most of the signatures were made up of professors and other learning instructors.

“The University System of Georgia is continually monitoring the evolving circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and has offered guidance to its member institutions, including the University of West Georgia, in response to public health recommendations at both the state and federal levels,” said Dr. Brendan Kelly, UWG president, in a written statement. “Following that collective guidance allows us as individual institutions to adapt to changing circumstances and work to create and promote a culture of mutual respect among our campus community. Because of the system’s work, we can adhere to standards of practice that nurture consistency across the state at a time when the circumstances are constantly evolving.”

As of press time Monday, university officials did not issue a statement regarding the ability to opt-out of face-to-face instruction.