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UAB Health mandates shots as events canceled, masks ordered

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A major state employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System, said Tuesday it would require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as communities large and small canceled events and more schools ordered face masks to confront the worsening surge of the coronavirus.

UAB Health announced that both employees and others working in its hospitals and clinics must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 12. The requirement affects 16,000 employees and could help boost the state’s last-in-the-nation ranking for the shots.

Employees of UAB Health already are required to be vaccinated against other health threats including the flu, the system said, and COVID-19 is threatening its ability to provide care.

“If more people don’t get vaccinated, and hospitalizations continue to increase, we will not be able to care for patients who need us; we’ve already decreased important services,” said Dr. Sarah Nafziger, vice president of clinical support services.

Nearly 100 doctors, nurses and other workers have contracted COVID-19 at UAB Hospital, a report showed. It wasn’t clear exactly how many people would have to be vaccinated.

The city of Montgomery announced Monday that band shows and other events connected with back-to-back football games planned in the city next month between historically Black colleges were being called off because of the pandemic. The games themselves would be held between Alabama State University and Miles College on Sept. 4 and Tuskegee University and Fort Valley State on Sept. 5.

The biggest annual event in the 4,500-person town of Winfield, Mule Day, also was called off for the second year straight because of rising cases of COVID-19 in northwest Alabama. The gathering wasn’t scheduled until Sept. 24, but health officials say the state’s health system could still be in crisis then.

In Cullman, where the Rock the South country music festival held last week drew thousands, health officials were concerned about a rise in COVID-19 cases linked to the gathering. Judy Smith, area administrator of the state health department, said 41% of recent COVID-19 cases were in people between the ages of 21 and 49.

“That’s probably the majority of what went to Rock the South,” she told the Decatur Daily. “Sadly enough, we’re pulling our teams together right now to do additional testing, because we know it’s going to happen. It’s not going to be just Cullman County. Those folks, if they gave it to each other … took it back to their counties.”

Other large events are pushing ahead. The National Shrimp Festival, which can attract as many as 250,000 people to Gulf Shores, remains scheduled for October, said city spokesperson Grant Brown. It will be held in Baldwin County, which already is among the worst in the state for new cases.

With classes resuming across much of the state this month, Geneva County schools said more than 400 students already were at home as close contacts of someone with COVID-19, so all students, teachers and staff were required to wear face masks for at least two weeks beginning Wednesday. Larger systems including Birmingham and Opelika already had ordered mask-wearing.

With about 11,800 dead of COVID-19 in the state, Alabama has the 16th worse death rate in the nation, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 1,176, a jump of about 48%.

More than 2,720 people were hospitalized statewide with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and critical care beds were all but full. The vast majority of the seriously ill haven’t been vaccinated, officials say.

With less than 35% of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Alabama is last in the nation for inoculations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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