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UAB to shift COVID rules, treat virus like ‘flu’ for new school year

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 as they would the flu or strep throat: Students should continue to get vaccinated, boosted, tested and treated if infected, officials said in an email to students Monday, but the university will no longer contact trace or report cases to faculty.

“As the virus has waned 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 who have completed their vaccine series so far. Jefferson County is among about two-thirds of counties that are in the “red,” meaning it currently has high levels of community transmission.

However, leaders wrote, there currently is low hospitalization and case rates at UAB Hospital and readily available testing and treatments.

The college is making the following changes to its current COVID-19 protocol, effective Monday, Aug. 22:

  • Student Health will not manage contact tracing and notification of close contacts; students who are positive should notify their close contacts.
  • Students who test positive through Student Health or upload an outside positive test (at home or outside clinician) through the Patient Portal will continue to receive follow-up messaging through the portal with CDC-recommended instructions for next actions, including when to return to class and campus activities; this document can be shared with instructors if the student chooses to or is required to per class attendance policy.
  • Individual positive COVID cases will no longer be reported to faculty (for a student in their class), and the related follow-up clearance notification is also discontinued.
  • Active case management will be limited to those at heightened risk for severe illness who may need assistance.
  • Students are strongly encouraged to upload a positive COVID test to the Student Health Patient Portal.
  • Notification protocols for supervisors of COVID-positive employees will not change, and officials recommend students continue to self-report “any recommended precautions or limitations” to their instructors.

    Leaders stressed that the university will remain mask-optional, not mask-free, and that they will continue to monitor and assess data carefully and adjust protocols as needed.

    “As public health, infectious disease and university health professionals, we will stay vigilant in following the evolving pandemic and ensure that UAB decision makers have the right data, projections and context to make the best decisions for our campus community,” they wrote.

    According to the University of Alabama’s COVID-19 community guidelines, masks are still required in medical facilities on the main campus, but not in classrooms or other community spaces.

    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 an unvaccinated individual’s close-contact exposure to someone who tested positive.

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