Alabama governor announces COVID-19 testing, safety programs for higher ed

Alabama governor announces COVID-19 testing, safety programs for higher ed
New testing and safety programs are initially aimed at Alabama higher education but could be implemented in other areas. (Getty Images)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced two programs Monday to provide COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring, as well as notification of exposure to the disease.

The programs – Testing for Alabama and Stay Safe Together – will be implemented by a coalition led by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and UAB. The platforms will support public institutions of higher education to enhance safety on campus during the pandemic, and may later support businesses and other entities.

The initiative supported by $30 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) money, will target underserved areas and support the Alabama Department of Public Health in its testing of hot spots around Alabama.

Alabama received about $1.9 billion in federal coronavirus aid to respond to and mitigate the pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $250 million to support the delivery of health care and related services to residents.

“The agreement between the state of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Public Health and UAB is exactly the type of public-private partnership that is needed to adequately respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Ivey. “We will only be able to acquire critical, life-saving resources by working together. Living with the coronavirus is our new normal and I appreciate the combined efforts to ensure that as we get back to our daily routines, we can do so safely as well as helping our valued researchers gain new information to combat this disease.”

Testing for Alabama

More than $750,000 in coronavirus relief will fund Testing for Alabama and will enable every college student attending a public four-year or two-year college an opportunity to be tested prior to re-entry to campus.

UAB, in partnership with the University of Alabama System, will work with ADPH to lead a coalition of entities, including the University of South Alabama, HudsonAlpha and Kailos Genetics, to support the testing initiative.

“Our ability to test every student returning to campus will go a long way in helping us maintain a safe environment,” said UAB President Ray Watts. “We are excited that, through this partnership with Gov. Ivey and the state of Alabama, we will have the ability to make testing available across our system and to public colleges and universities throughout the state. On behalf of UAB and the UA System, we thank Gov. Ivey for investing in this important program that will promote health across the state.”

News conference announcing Testing for Alabama and Stay Safe Together COVID-19 programs from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the University of Alabama System has taken a leading role in utilizing the world-renown medical expertise at UAB in setting operational priorities and protocols to serve the three state campuses.

“We are pleased to provide this new testing service to all public colleges and universities across our state,”said UA System Chancellor Finis St. John. “We appreciate the opportunity to work with Gov. Ivey and her team to bring this project forward and help Alabama’s citizens during this unprecedented time. I want to thank President Watts, Dr. Selwyn Vickers and the scores of scientists, physicians and innovators who have made this testing process possible.”

In addition to the comprehensive re-entry testing in higher education, Testing for Alabama allows for sentinel testing on college campuses and in certain underserved locations with identified health care disparities. Testing of a percentage of a population can identify trends and potential problem areas in the spread of COVID-19 and may identify how much of the virus is circulating.

“Protocols for how testing will be administered are being developed,” said Vickers, dean of UAB’s School of Medicine and a member of Gov. Ivey’s Coronavirus Task Force. “We anticipate the test will likely be either a swab in the nostril – though not the more invasive nasopharyngeal swab – or an oral saline gargle test that we currently have under development.”

Stay Safe Together

The Stay Safe Together platform will promote safe re-entry and ongoing COVID-19 monitoring. It includes a health check that allows people to assess their symptoms. It includes an exposure notification app backed by Google and Apple technology that can anonymously alert someone if they are in proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The health check tool, similar to the platform launched by UAB in April, is in use by campus personnel at UAB. Tailored versions can be used by other public institutions of higher education in Alabama. There are potential applications for public K-12 schools.

The exposure notification smartphone app is in development and is anticipated to be ready in time for the fall 2020 semester.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is going to continue at least into the fall and early winter,” said Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer and co-chair of Testing for Alabama with Dr. Michael Saag, UAB infectious disease physician. “The Alabama Department of Public Health wants to ensure we are doing everything we can to give our state the best opportunity to navigate the crisis as safely and effectively as possible. These tools, in combination with the Testing for Alabama free testing opportunity for all public college students, will help reduce disruptions and create environments where learning can continue in spite of this global pandemic.”

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

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