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Chancellor Says UGA Will Stay Open as Mayor and Frat Leader Clash Over COVID Response

USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley said Tuesday that USG institutions will remain open for in-person instruction.

Wrigley told the Board of Regents at its monthly meeting Tuesday morning that COVID-19 spikes on college campuses are mostly the result of off-campus interactions, and the relatively few cases among faculty and staff are a sign that on-campus safety guidelines are working.

His comments echoed those made by UGA President Jere Morehead on Friday, in which Morehead blamed Athens-Clarke County for the explosion of COVID-19 cases among UGA students.

Just before the Board of Regents meeting began, Mayor Kelly Girtz released a response to a letter from Interfraternity Council President Brennan Cox, a student, to Gov. Brian Kemp. Cox told Kemp that ACC isn’t enforcing the regulations on bars in Kemp’s COVID-19 executive order, and that chapter presidents and fraternity members are using the behavior at downtown bars to justify hosting parties at frat houses.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Monday that UGA is suspending an unnamed fraternity for violating social distancing guidelines. “Many UGA faculty and students have blamed administrators for the high numbers, saying they have not conducted enough asymptomatic testing or contact tracing,” the paper said.

Last week, UGA raised its number of daily surveillance tests from 360 to 450 when it reported 1,417 COVID-19 cases for the week of Aug. 31, the fourth straight week that number has risen. Along with it, cases in Clarke County have been on the rise, currently standing at 1,231 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Other universities do more testing—for example, Georgia Tech tests 1,500 people a day, and the University of Illinois tests each student twice a week. Girtz called on UGA to ramp up testing and contact tracing.

Girtz’s response to Cox’s letter noted that ACC was the first government in Georgia to enact a shelter-in-place ordinance and had relatively low COVID-19 numbers until UGA resumed on-campus activity. Girtz also pointed out loopholes in Kemp’s executive order that make it difficult to enforce.

In addition, Girtz called on Kemp to follow the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommendations and allow no more than 10 people to gather. A limit of 10 would be easier to enforce than Kemp’s current limit of 50, he said. ACC also plans to crack down on underage drinkers, according to Girtz.