A leading institution in Alabama’s COVID-19 response will relax its protocol as students return to class next week.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is now advising students to treat the virus like the flu or strep throat: Students must continue to be vaccinated, boosted, tested and treated if infected, officials said in an email to students Monday, but the university will not contact tracing or report cases to the faculty.
“As the virus has declined in our highly vaccinated campus population and the community around us, UAB infectious disease and public health experts agree that now is a reasonable time to adjust certain protocols to be consistent with our traditional cold/flu precautions,” read an email signed by Dr. Michael Faircloth of UAB Student Health Services, Suzanne Judd of the UAB School of Public Health, and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of the infectious diseases department.
As of Aug. 10, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported a 7-day average of about 600 cases and 100 hospitalizations statewide, with about 2.4 million Alabamians having completed their vaccine series to date. Jefferson County belongs to about two-thirds of the counties that are in the “red,” meaning it currently has a high rate of community transfer.
However, leaders wrote that there are currently low hospital admissions and case rates at UAB hospital and readily available tests and treatments.
Effective Monday, August 22, the college is making the following changes to the current COVID-19 protocol:
- Student Health does not arrange contact tracing and reporting of close contacts; students who are positive should inform their closest contacts.
- Students who test positive through Student Health or upload a positive test from outside (home or remote clinician) through the patient portal will continue to receive follow-up messages through the portal with CDC-recommended instructions for next actions, including when to return to class and campus activities; this document may be shared with instructors if the student chooses or is required to follow class attendance policies.
- Individual positive COVID cases will no longer be reported to faculty (for a student in their class), and related follow-up reporting will also be discontinued.
- Active case management will be limited to those at risk for serious illness who may need help.
- Students are strongly encouraged to upload a positive COVID test to the Student Health Patient Portal.
Reporting protocols for supervisors of COVID-positive employees will not change, and officials are advising students to self-report “recommended precautions or restrictions” to their instructors.
Leaders stressed that the university will remain mask-optional, not mask-free, and will continue to carefully monitor and review the data and adjust protocols as necessary.
“As public health, infectious disease and university health professionals, we will remain vigilant in monitoring the evolving pandemic and ensuring that UAB decision makers have the right data, projections and context to make the best decisions for our campus community they wrote.
Under the University of Alabama’s COVID-19 community guidelines, masks are still required in main campus medical facilities, but not in classrooms or other common areas.
The University of Alabama at Huntsville also shifted its masking requirements in the spring. Indoor masking is no longer mandatory at UAH, except in clinical areas or after a positive test or the direct exposure of an unvaccinated person to someone who tested positive.