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$30 million CARES funding awarded for increased testing, focus on public colleges and universities

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday awarded $30 million in Alabama’s CARES Act funding for increased testing and a re-entry platform for Alabama’s public universities and two-year colleges.

It is not yet clear if all of Alabama’s public four-year and two-year institutions will require students to test before returning to campus, but University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts said its students will be required to test.

“Our ability to test every student returning to campus will go a long way in helping us maintain a safe environment,” Watts said in a press release. “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.”

More than $750,000 will fund the testing initiative that is a partnership with UAB and Alabama’s Department of Public Health.

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine’s Dean Selwyn Vickers said the increased testing effort is primarily focused on those returning students in the fall but could later focus on hot spots or underserved areas.

“Our ongoing efforts in the fall will be partnered with ADPH to look at sentinel and hot spot testing and to use the infrastructure we have to support its efforts to rapidly deploy teams in areas where testing is needed,” Vickers said during an online press conference on Monday.

The University of South Alabama, HudsonAlpha and Kailos Genetics will be working with UAB to create the logistical strategy of testing every student and the plan for re-entry to campuses.

Vickers said the goal is to test students off campus before they return. Testing sites are still being finalized.

The testing types will include a nasal swab – though not the invasive nasopharyngeal swab – or an oral saline gargle test being developed by UAB.

Included with the testing, UAB is encouraging all higher education institutions to use the Stay Safe Together Platform, which includes a COVID-19 health check app that allows individuals to log their symptoms on a daily basis.

UAB is currently developing an exposure notification app that would notify someone if they have been at risk of exposure to COVID-19. That app is set to be released sometime in July and can potentially be available to all colleges and K-12 schools in the state.

Individual institutions would be responsible for creating protocols for students who refuse to undergo testing.

Vickers said he has asked each institution to create their own quarantine plan for when a student tests positive during the school year. He suggested campuses creating a specific isolated quarantine area to keep students while they recover.

Alabama’s Community College System has not said if it would require testing for students to return to in-person instruction, but a spokesperson said the system would be finalizing and announcing fall plans in the near future.

Both Watts and Vickers also stressed the importance of personal responsibility for college students when it comes to helping slow the spread of the virus.

“We know it’s going to take a comprehensive effort, no one of these things alone will make a difference,” Vickers said. “Human behavior is fundamentally at the foundation of this but we’re going to add all the tools possible to make this future and our fall workable for our students, faculty and staff.”

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