UA Clarifies Students On Campus Will Count For State COVID Stats
In less than a week, the University of Alabama will resume hybrid, virtual and in-person classes for its fall semester.
All students will be required to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus, and earlier this week, Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox told the city council that any out-of-state UA students who test positive would not be counted in the Alabama Department of Public Health's tally of cumulative confirmed cases in the state. There was widespread concern that categorizing sick students by their home states or counties would skew the numbers and not accurately reflect how many positive cases were present in the Tuscaloosa area.
The University of Alabama clarified their plans Thursday in a statement to The Tuscaloosa Thread, saying that any student who is on campus when they test positive will actually be counted in local numbers.
A spokesperson for the University said the confusion arose because students will be counted differently before and after they arrive in the Druid City.
"For example, a student who lives in Texas, is tested in Texas, has a positive result and is quarantined in Texas, would be reported to the public health authorities of Texas for monitoring and contact tracing," said Shane Dorrill, Assistant Director of Communications for UA. "That individual would not come to campus until cleared by protocol."
After a student is physically living in Tuscaloosa, they are counted as residents of the county like anyone else.
"Once students arrive on campus, the University’s protocol is to report students who are tested at UA to ADPH using their local address," Dorrill clarified. "That case will be included in the Tuscaloosa County testing data."
No matter how the numbers are tracked, Andy North, Vice President of Marketing and Communications of the DCH Health System, said all local health organizations are going to be collaborating for the benefit of all.
"DCH, local leaders and the University of Alabama have all been working closely together throughout the pandemic," North said. "Our planning and ability to respond to the health needs of the community are largely independent of how the Alabama Department of Public Health reports positive COVID-19 cases."
Regular testing and reporting cases is only a fraction of the University's goal to be as safe as possible welcoming more than 20,000 students back to campus next week. Other of the plan the University released Thursday facets include the following:
- Masks are required in all non-residential buildings
- Classrooms will have limited seating and adhere to social distancing guidelines
- Larger classes will be divided in half and taught during two separate class times
- Students and faculty will be required to complete online virus prevention training
- All students must be tested prior to returning to campus
- As an immediate alternative to temperature tracking technology, students must track their symptoms periodically through a new mobile app
- Events on campus must be limited to fewer than 50 attendees indoors and 100 outdoors
- Off-campus student events are "strictly prohibited"
- Access to on-campus housing is restricted to building residents only
- Students who test positive on-campus can be moved to special isolated living spaces at Bryce Lawn and the Highlands apartments
The updated plan promises stringent sanctions and discipline for individual and organization violations of the updated regulations, including year-long suspensions for students after their fourth offense and termination of employees after four violations.
The health and safety of students, faculty and staff is also only one piece of the puzzle for the University -- the pandemic is also wreaking havoc on its budget. Although UA officials are not releasing enrollment numbers they are finalized next month, administrators are predicting a significant decrease in its profitable out-of-state student population and recently ordered a budget cut of $30 million to offset that loss.
Positive COVID-19 cases will continue to be tracked throughout the coming months at UA, and any new information or policy changes will be reported as they come.