Governor Ivey announces COVID-19 testing, safety programs developed by UAB and the State Department of Public Health to support higher ed statewide

by Tyler Greer

Governor Kay Ivey announced two programs Monday that will provide robust COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring, as well as notification of exposure to COVID-19, initially to public institutions of higher education.

The programs — Testing for Alabama and Stay Safe Together ™ — will be implemented by a coalition led by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 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, which will be supported by $30 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) money, will also target underserved areas in the state and support the Alabama Department of Public Health in its testing of hot spots around Alabama.

Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion in CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $250 million to be used to support the delivery of health care and related services to residents of Alabama.

“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 Governor Kay 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 CARES Act money will fund the Testing for Alabama initiative and will enable every college student attending a public four-year and two-year college an opportunity to be tested prior to reentry to campus.

UAB, in partnership with the University of Alabama System, will work with the Alabama Department of Public Health to lead a coalition of entities including the University of South Alabama, HudsonAlpha and Kailos Genetics to support this robust reentry 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 L. Watts. “We are excited that, through this partnership with Governor 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 Governor Ivey for investing in this important program that will promote health across the state.”

We are pleased to provide this new testing service to all public colleges and universities across our state. We appreciate the opportunity to work with Governor Ivey and her team to bring this project forward and help Alabama’s citizens during this unprecedented time.” — UA System Chancellor Finis St. John

The University of Alabama System has taken a leading role since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to utilize the world-renown medical expertise at UAB in setting operational priorities and protocols to serve the three campuses and the state.

Responding to the CARES Act announcement today, UA System Chancellor Finis St. John said, “We are pleased to provide this new testing service to all public colleges and universities across our state. We appreciate the opportunity to work with Governor 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 reentry testing in higher education, Testing for Alabama allows for sentinel testing on college campuses and in certain underserved locations in Alabama with identified health care disparities. This testing of a percentage of a population can help identify trends and potential problem areas in COVID-19 spread and identify how much of the virus is circulating in the population.

“Protocols for how testing will be administered are being developed,” said Selwyn Vickers, M.D., 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 reentry and ongoing COVID-19 monitoring. It includes a COVID-19 health check that allows individuals to assess their health and symptoms, as well as an exposure notification app backed by Google and Apple technology that can anonymously alert someone if they are at risk from being 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 already in use by on-campus personnel at UAB. Tailored versions can also be used by other public institutions of higher education in the state. It also has 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 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 along with Michael Saag, M.D., 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.”

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