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Democrats on the Georgia House Higher Education Committee urged Gov. Brian Kemp Monday to drop his opposition to mask mandates and leave the decision to administrators at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The lawmakers’ plea came as University System of Georgia professors and students launched a weeklong series of demonstrations on campuses across the state demanding mask mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We need our leaders to fight against the virus, not against our students and faculty,” said Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn.

“A leader makes decisions,” added Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale. “Georgia needs a leader, not a follower.”

Kemp has held firm against imposing statewide mask mandates on either college campuses or K-12 classrooms in Georgia, criticizing such requirements as divisive.

He and other Republican governors also have strongly objected to an executive order President Joe Biden issued late last week requiring all federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and any employers with 100 or more employees to make sure they get the shots or are tested regularly for the virus.

GOP opponents have argued the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration lacks the legal authority to enforce such workplace mandates, and a legal challenge is expected.

Last week, university system Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney defended Kemp’s position on mask mandates. She said campus administrators have worked hard to put all necessary health and safety protocols in place for students returning for in-person classes this semester.

The system is encouraging but not requiring students and professors to wear masks and get vaccinated.

But Clark, who holds a doctorate in microbiology from Emory University, said nothing works to prevent the spread of COVID-19 better than making mask wearing and vaccinations mandatory.

“We have data [showing] that mask mandates work. We also know vaccines work,” she said. “The more people we have vaccinated on our campuses, the better we’re able to stop the virus.”


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