- Associated Press - Saturday, March 6, 2021

ATLANTA (AP) - Classrooms, dorms, cafeterias and stadiums are likely to be full again this fall at Georgia’s public universities.

The University System of Georgia on Wednesday announced that it has asked all campuses to plan for normal operations during the fall 2021 semester.

“This decision comes as wider availability of vaccines over the next few months is anticipated to control the spread of COVID-19,” the system said in a statement this week. “USG will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 across the state and consult with DPH in the coming months as to the appropriate practices to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.”

Regents instructed the 26 schools, with more than 340,000 students to maintain some level of in-person classes last fall and to increase the number of in-person classes this spring.

Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera wrote that the university plans to “return to campus with full operations and a complete residential experience for our students this fall.”

Some faculty members and employees have criticized in-person class mandates, saying universities weren’t allowing many employees to work remotely, putting their health at risk. Schools including UGA and Georgia Tech have offered widespread on-campus testing seeking to control the spread of the virus, but testing has been less widespread on other campuses. Several campuses had notable outbreaks in August and September after students first returned. However, the current announcements come as many high school and transfer students are making decisions about where they will attend class next fall.

“Given the availability of vaccines and the success we have had in preventing the coronavirus from spreading on our campuses, we intend to open in the fall with a full complement of in-person classes,” Georgia State University President Mark Becker wrote. “We also intend to have a fully populated residential community and campuses that provide the usual student services, activities, events and recreational opportunities.”

Gov. Brian Kemp did not include university employees when he widened eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to groups including K-12 and preschool education employees starting Monday. But shots for teachers could be coming by fall.

“We anticipate that we will have been able to vaccinate faculty and staff by that time,” wrote University of North Georgia Provost Chaudron Gille wrote to faculty members this week: “Of course, if this year has taught us anything, it is that we must be prepared for the unexpected.”

University of Georgia officials told faculty and students that summer classes will continue to be offered in a mix of formats, but said there will be more room for face-to-face instruction during the summer because there are fewer classes and more classrooms available. Officials including President Jere Morehead wrote in a memo that students and faculty should continue to maintain 6 feet of distance and wear masks for now. UGA expressed more confidence for the fall, but still warned disruptions are possible.

“We must remain ready to pivot to social distancing - with a mix of instructional formats of in-person, hybrid and online modes of instruction - if the situation warrants such a change,” the officials wrote.

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