In less than a week, we will begin regular classes for the Spring Semester at the University of Georgia. As the number of students, faculty and staff returning to campus steadily increases over the coming days, we want to take this opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of being fully vaccinated for COVID variants and having received a booster vaccine.

We are returning to campus at a time when cases of COVID are once again on the rise in our local community, state, nation and world. The Omicron variant is highly transmissible, rapidly overtaking the Delta variant as the dominant strain of the virus in the United States over the holiday season. We fully expect to see a spike in the number of positive cases reported over Winter Break when those figures are posted on the University Health Center (UHC) website tomorrow morning.

If it feels like we have been here before, it’s because we have. We experienced a similar uptick in cases due to the Delta variant at the start of the Fall Semester, but we managed through it, maintaining in-person instruction and the research and service that are critical to the wellbeing of our state. We are well prepared to handle the next potential wave of cases, but we will need to rally together once again to persevere.

If you have not yet been vaccinated, we strongly encourage you to do so. Data clearly demonstrate that vaccinations and boosters provide our best defense against COVID variants. Although break-through cases are possible, the risk of severe illness is significantly lower among those who have been fully vaccinated and boostered. The University Health Center offers first, second and booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine free of charge to faculty, staff, students and their eligible dependents aged 16 and up. To date, the UHC has provided more than 32,000 COVID vaccinations.

Beginning Jan. 4, 2022, faculty and staff who would like to schedule a COVID vaccine appointment at the University Health Center may do so by calling 706-542-5575. Students may continue to schedule their COVID vaccine appointments online through the Patient Portal. While supplies last, you can also receive a $20 gift card following your vaccination.

Surveillance testing remains an important step in our defense against infection. The University Health Center and Veterinary Diagnostic Labs are equipped to test up to 800 people per day for COVID variants. These tests are free to faculty, staff and students. Click here to schedule an appointment. Walk-ups are also welcome. Over the next three weeks, testing will be expanded through pop-up locations at the Tate Student Center offered by the College of Public Health on January 11, 13, 18, 20, 25 and 27 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  

Remember that any faculty, staff or student who tests positive for COVID is required to report that positive test through DawgCheck and to follow the advice provided. Typically, a positive test will require a period of isolation, depending on the test results. Quarantining also applies to unvaccinated individuals who are identified to have been in close contact with an infected individual. The Georgia Department of Public Health recently changed its protocols on quarantine and isolation to reflect CDC guidance, and UGA is now following the new guidance. Click here to see the latest information.

We continue to strongly encourage the wearing of face masks when inside campus buildings. Face coverings are required on Campus Transit buses in accordance with federal transportation rules. We have nearly 23,000 KN95 masks in stock for distribution and have ordered an additional 22,000 that are scheduled to arrive later this week. Departments that are interested in having masks on hand can order them at no cost through UGAmart. Students can pick up masks at information desks in the Tate Student Center and the Miller Learning Center, while supplies last.

In addition to the individual measures described above, Student Affairs also will continue to hold a stock of beds for potential quarantine and isolation needs by our students, and the Student Care and Outreach team stands ready to assist.

The Facilities Management Division (FMD) will continue to follow the special cleaning and disinfection protocols that have served our community so effectively over the past two years. In addition, FMD will continue to re-stock and supply the existing hand sanitizing stations and wipes for individual use in offices, breakrooms and classrooms. Information on cleaning frequency and protocol, sanitizing stations or wipes, and to request additional cleaning service can be found here. The plexiglass shields installed in classrooms, buses, point-of-sale locations and other settings also will remain. Information on ordering new or replacement shields can be found here .

For the past two years, FMD has been focused on improving ventilation and indoor air quality across campus. This FMD interactive website illustrates the location of buildings with completed, in-progress or in-design HVAC air quality improvement projects. In this academic year alone, more than $7 million in targeted projects to improve HVAC systems across campus is being done, with 16 of 18 HVAC replacement projects already completed. UV total disinfection arrays were installed over Fall Semester in the Miller Learning Center, Caldwell Hall, Tate Student Center, Park Hall, Joe Frank Harris, Bolton and the Main Library. More UV arrays will be installed in Aderhold, Sanford and Boyd Graduate Studies this month. All the work is in accordance with CDC, DPH and HVAC industry standards.

We understand the tremendous strain that the COVID pandemic continues to present for members of our campus community. We want to remind you that there are several support systems and tools available to you through various resources offered by the University System of Georgia and UGA.

Faculty and Staff have access to several benefits programs that can be accessed through OneUSGConnect (e.g., Kepro EAP counseling, Virgin Pulse Well-being, Accolade care management, Live Health Online, etc.). UGA is working with the USG to implement strategies to focus on employee mental health and emotional well-being, including providing a Mental Health First Training course for key campus personnel.

Students also have access to a number of mental health resources through our Dean of Students Office and the University Health Center (e.g., Student Care and Outreach, Counseling and Psychiatric Services, UGA Wellness Hub, etc.).

In closing, we want to thank you again for your continued patience, understanding and tenacity. For more than two years, our faculty, staff and students have worked together diligently to fight the pandemic.

As we return to class this spring, our priority will remain on protecting the health and safety of our campus community while maintaining the high quality of teaching, research and service that makes UGA a national leader in public higher education. Please remember that the best way to protect yourself, your family and our University community is to be vaccinated. If you have not yet been vaccinated and received a booster, we strongly encourage you to do so.