By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Hundreds of University of Georgia students tested positive for COVID-19 during the first full week of classes that began last week, the school announced Wednesday.
Between Aug. 24-30, 821 positive tests were reported through UGA’s weekly online self-reporting system. Of those, 19 tests returned positive for staff and four for faculty, the university said in a news release.
Around half of the tests were done by sources that were not university health staff or medical providers in the Athens area, the school said. Those tests, many of which were done by urgent care clinics and outside testing centers, have not been verified by the university.
But the university has confirmed 186 positive tests were reported by the campus health center, plus 126 more positive tests from Athens-area medical providers and another 97 tests that showed positive results of mostly students who had no COVID-19 symptoms.
UGA has roughly 50,000 students, faculty and staff.
UGA President Jere Morehead called the first-week test results “concerning” and urged students to wear masks, social distance and avoid “social venues.” He also pressed students to use caution if traveling off campus for the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend.
“All of us must take our responsibilities very seriously as we seek to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Morehead said in a statement.
UGA also announced Wednesday around 300 on-campus rooms and hundreds more off campus nearby have been made available for infected or symptomatic students to quarantine if they are unable to return home to isolate themselves.
Many Georgia college students and teachers have worried for weeks that returning to campus for in-person classes could exacerbate the coronavirus pandemic that has battered the state since March.
In Athens, UGA students and teachers have held “die-in” demonstrations with signs painted like tombstones to protest what they perceive as a lack of preparation on the part of University System of Georgia administrators.
Representatives from the university system, which oversees 26 colleges and universities, have stressed that they discussed safety measures with the state Department of Public Health before resuming classes.
Nearly all of the system’s 26 campus presidents wrote the Board of Regents in July to express support for holding in-person classes as “an essential part of the educational growth that is critical for the overall success of our students.”
Many students and teachers, however, have cast the resumption of in-person classes as a potentially grave health risk for students, staff, teachers, their families and members of local communities around campuses who may be elderly or suffer from chronic illnesses.