AU is back in business, but faculty still concerned about COVID-19

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 5:22 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Augusta University will begin opening its campus, following guidelines for social distancing and encouraging masks. But some faculty still feel their safety could be at stake.

In South Carolina, institutions are making mask-wearing required on campus. Several institutions in Georgia are following the guidelines suggested by the University Systems of Georgia and the CDC, one where masks are strongly encouraged, but not required.

Augusta University has been a big player in COVID-19 research and has always encouraged mask-wearing. Gov. Brian Kemp is also embarking on a tour around the state to encourage people to wear masks.

So, some professors are confused. If leaders are pushing so hard for people to wear masks, why aren’t they required?

Wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance. We’ve heard it multiple times over the past month. But as the country starts to open back up, those suggestions seem to be just that: suggestions.

“I’m extremely disappointed because neighboring states, the state university systems, have established mandatory mask-wearing,” AU professor Dr. Michael B. Bishku said.

Bishku is confused why mask-wearing won’t be mandatory on campus, particularly when AU has been one of the main players in encouraging face masks.

“In our particular case, we’ve got a commuter campus, and people are coming from all different areas,” he said.

Studies at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show that “if 95 percent of the U.S. population always wore masks in public, more than half the deaths that are predicted between now through October 1 would be avoided.”

So Bishku met with university leaders, saying mandatory masks could be life-saving.

“The provost was very apologetic to me as soon as we had that meeting, I sent off a quick email, and she implied that her hands were tied,” he said.

Augusta University says they follow the guidance set forth by the University Systems of Georgia, but they have purchased two masks for every faculty, staff, and student.

Plus staff members can continue to do online learning if they do not feel they can adequately socially distance in their classrooms.

“I was originally set up to teach face to face and then I changed it hybrid, and then I was reluctant to even do the hybrid,” Bishku said.

The choice to continue doing online learning is a saving grace. But he’s not convinced in-person learning will hold out anyway.

“I have a feeling that come the time period when we have influenza that maybe they’ll be sending us home again like they did midterm last semester,” he said.

AU says they'll be doing extra cleaning, but not routinely between classes. They also will not be conducting temperature checks of people entering buildings.

Augusta University starts its return to campus Wednesday and plans to be fully staffed and back to business by Aug. 3.

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