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AJC On Campus: Ga. schools take center stage in COVID-19 research

By Eric Stirgus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

Georgia colleges and universities have spent much of their time this fall semester working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on their campuses. There was some attention this week on their work on treatments and vaccines. Here’s some details about those developments, the president of Georgia Tech’s annual address to the school, some sweet research happening at Savannah State University and other happenings in the latest version of AJC On Campus.

Fauci discusses vaccine research with Emory

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease official, tried to reassure an increasingly worried public that any approved COVID-19 vaccine would be based on science, not politics, in a roundtable discussion Thursday organized by Emory University. Emory has been active in a closely-watched vaccine study and treatment research. Read more here about his remarks and the discussion.

University of Georgia to lead COVID-19 study

The University of Georgia said Thursday it is leading a study to answer a key question concerning COVID-19: how long can someone who recovers from the disease be immune to it? The researchers will monitor participants over the course of 24 months. At least 50% of the participants will be members of minority populations, which have been impacted by COVID-19 at a higher rate than other groups, UGA said. Augusta University Medical Center will also participate in the study.

Cabrera on the state of Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera on Tuesday gave his annual address on the state of the school Tuesday. Cabrera talked about the rough start of the fall semester as COVID-19 cases soared on the campus. Cabrera gave credit to students for the recent decline, saying they have been more vigilant about following social distancing rules and recommendations.

Cabrera hinted at some difficult days ahead financially, when Gov. Brian Kemp and state lawmakers begin the budget approval process in January. Georgia Tech suffered a $30 million budget cut this fiscal year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The school, he said, has agreed to some voluntary separations and has not filled some vacant positions. Still, he insisted “We’re in a strong position. We’re going to be fine.”

Cabrera also discussed the need to improve student diversity. Women, he said, make up about 39% of Georgia Tech’s enrollment this semester. About 30% of all Georgia Tech students last year were women. About 7% of its students are Black, an increase by one percentage point from last year. “There’s still a lot of room to grow to at least reach parity,” he said.

University of Georgia fraternity under investigation

The University of Georgia’s Lambda Chi Alpha chapter self-suspended its operations last weekend after sexist and racially-offensive remarks were posted in a chapter GroupMe page, according to the university’s Interfraternity Council. The remarks were directed toward a Black, female student who is a social justice activist at the university and a critic of various aspects of the state’s COVID-19 safety protocols. A university spokesman said Wednesday it is investigating the situation.

The incident was not the only racially-charged dispute at UGA this week. Otis Reese, a former Georgia football player, said he transferred to the University of Mississippi, in part, because of a racially insensitive and unsupportive environment in Athens. UGA officials denied Reese’s claims.

University of Georgia reports another major decline in COVID-19 cases

The University of Georgia released data on its website Wednesday showing 163 new positive COVID-19 cases last week, its lowest total since before the start of the fall semester. It’s the second consecutive week of a major drop in reported cases. Read more here.

Georgia College’s spring semester plans

From the category of it’s never too early, Georgia College officials are making spring semester calendar plans. The ideas under consideration include delaying the start of the spring semester by two nearly weeks, to Jan. 19, canceling spring break and having final exams the first week of May. The plans are an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the campus. The number of positive cases were a big problem at the start of the semester. The school had 377 reported student cases in one seven day stretch in late August. The numbers have declined sharply since; nine cases were reported on the website in the last seven days. Some decisions concerning the spring semester will be made soon, a spokeswoman told us Wednesday. Stay tuned.

Savannah State students get high marks for their work with bees

Two Savannah State University students recently won an international competition for their ongoing campaign to protect honeybees. The students, Sade Shofidiya, and Karen Perez, won first place in the World Trade Centers Association Foundation 2020 Peace Through Trade Competition. The students created Foster Beelief, a charity that promotes sustainability through the education of the at-risk honeybee population.

The program’s pollinator gardens functions as a food source for both the honeybee and local communities impacted by food deserts, which the students say, provides food options in marginalized communities while helping to sustain the honeybees. Its goals also include increasing interest in science, technology, engineering and math among minority students, and research in Historically Black Colleges and Universities degree programs. Savannah State is one of three public HBCUs in Georgia.

More students taking out loans for college

A study published this week had some disturbing news concerning how students feel about college affordability and their plans to pay for their education. The report by Niche, a website that posts information to help students with their college search, found just 32% of students felt they could afford the college they chose, a decline from 48.5% just four years ago. For the first time in five years, the majority of students, 62.7% of them, plan to take a loan. Nearly 19,000 students responded to the survey, including 767 Georgia students. Click here to read the report.

North Georgia Tech’s interim president

echnical College System of Georgia officials on Monday announced longtime North Georgia Technical College official Michele Shirley is the interim president. Mark Ivester, who had been president there for six years, died earlier this month after being hospitalized with COVID-19.