Category: General Messages

University to End COVID Protocols

Given plummeting case numbers and the widespread availability of vaccines and treatments, and in consultation with public health guidance, The University of Alabama is ending its COVID-19 protocols:

  • Effective Monday, Feb. 21, masking will no longer be mandatory in indoor locations.
  • Campus-provided quarantine and isolation space will be phased out over the remainder of the semester.
  • CV19 case management and hotline services will remain available on a limited basis, consistent with declining cases.

Masking will remain in effect in patient care areas (including areas specifically designated by UA medical experts) and on public transportation (as mandated by federal law). Those who are sick or symptomatic may test at the Student Health Center or University Medical Center, seek treatment, and stay home when advised. Those at heightened risk — and especially those who are unvaccinated — are strongly advised to be vaccinated, boosted, continue to wear masks and continue to limit their interactions with others.

“Our campus team has thoroughly reviewed the best available information and considered our own experience in addressing COVID over the past two years,” said Dr. Ricky Friend, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences. “The University has provided the indispensable service of education, while protecting our community. This is the next phase in continuing our essential mission.

“Services will remain available at SHC and UMC, and those who are sick or symptomatic — especially those who are at-risk, immunocompromised as defined by the CDC, and/or unvaccinated — should take precautions. If you are sick, stay home, self-quarantine, and mask around others.”

National, state and University case numbers have declined dramatically in recent weeks:

  • Student weekly cases have fallen from a high of 393 (Jan. 17-23) to 23 last week.
  • Employee weekly cases have fallen from a high of 140 (Jan. 10-16) to 24 last week.
  • Quarantine-isolation space usage has been as low as zero.
  • Vaccines have been available at UMC, SHC and many other locations for more than a year.

The University decision comes at the recommendation of the campus’ Situational Response Team, which includes experts with epidemiological, medical and other expertise. Other public health officials, including the Alabama Department of Public Health, were also consulted.

Campus administration and health care providers will continue to monitor COVID-19, as they do any other infectious disease. The Situational Response Team can be re-convened if needed, and plans for outbreaks remain in existence.

Omicron update and guidance from Dr. Friend

UA Community,

As our campus community comes together for the spring semester, I want to update you on what our campus medical professionals are observing with the omicron variant and share guidance for dealing with the virus’s ongoing impact.

We are seeing more positive tests in our clinics and anticipate that to continue in the coming days. Omicron is extraordinarily contagious, but cases are often mild and resolve quickly, especially among those vaccinated and boosted.

We continue to monitor local hospital capacity daily. Although numbers are increasing, ICU occupancy and patients who require oxygen are well below what we saw with previous surges. This is consistent with global data in countries that have already experienced an omicron spike.

Our doctors, nurses and medical professionals at both the University Medical Center and Student Health Center are ready to provide you with services and support.

Like last year, we should all prepare to adapt and adjust as students, faculty and staff may need to be out for a few days. Please be flexible and follow these guidelines:

  • Contact our CV19 COVID Support if you are sick with two or more COVID symptoms. Testing supplies are limited nationally, and asymptomatic testing is not recommended by the CDC.
  • Seek treatment if you are sick. Please be mindful of limited resources. Use common sense — if you normally have allergies this time of year, that may not require an emergency room or in-person doctor visit.
  • Those who test positive and can return home to recover should do so. While limited space is available on campus for those who can’t travel, the expectation will be to quarantine or isolate at home.
  • Faculty/instructors who need to temporarily switch to an online mode of instruction due to their need to quarantine or isolate should contact their department chair to seek approval from their dean and the provost.
  • Please be patient and understanding of others in our community. Both omicron and flu cases will be high during the coming weeks. Our staff at UMC and SHC have been heroes throughout the pandemic and will continue to meet the medical needs of our campus.

Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Wear a mask, and if you aren’t yet vaccinated and boosted, we strongly encourage you to get the vaccine.

The overall outlook for the spring semester is positive. Stay optimistic, be flexible and make wise decisions. Let’s all do our part to keep our community safe and preserve The University of Alabama experience. What this University is accomplishing — what you are doing — is too important to do otherwise.

Dr. Richard Friend
Dean
College of Community Health Sciences

University Spring 2022 Operations

After a successful fall semester, The University of Alabama will resume operations on Jan. 4, with spring semester classes beginning Jan. 12. As national and local coronavirus transmission rates have increased, some updates to existing protocols are necessary and now in effect:

  1. The University Covid Support Program (CV19) remains open for consultation and guidance at 205-348-CV19.
  • Faculty, staff, and students must report positive tests to CV19 and follow instructions regarding testing, quarantine, and isolation.
  • Those who feel sick or symptomatic should call CV19 for guidance.
  1. Vaccinations and boosters remain strongly encouraged and are available at no cost at the University Medical Center (UMC) and Student Health Center (SHC).
  2. Unvaccinated individuals must continue to wear a mask indoors and in outdoor crowds.
  1. Masks are required, regardless of vaccination status, in specified locations:
    • Academic buildings, including library and classroom buildings
    • Administrative and office buildings (except when distanced)
    • Health care facilities, including UMC and SHC
    • Campus transportation
    • Other areas as officially designated by the University

Testing for sick and symptomatic individuals is available at UMC and SHC, and CV19 continues to provide advice and referrals, including the latest CDC and Alabama Department of Public Health guidance regarding quarantine and isolation protocols. Limited dedicated space remains on campus for those not able to return home or quarantine/isolate in place.

College of Community Health Sciences Dean Dr. Ricky Friend continues to emphasize the effectiveness and importance of interventions like vaccinations, boosters, and wearing well-fitting masks in all public locations. The Situational Response Team will monitor conditions on campus and in the community and recommend any necessary changes.

Additional details, including information for those who are vulnerable or at risk, will be added to healthinfo.ua.edu and updated as conditions change.

UA employee vaccine requirement suspended

To comply with multiple federal mandates, UA implemented an employee COVID-19 vaccination requirement on Oct. 22. Specifically, President Biden’s Executive Order 14042 mandates that employees of federal contractors are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) mandated vaccination of employees of health care facilities.

Federal courts have now put the vaccine requirement on hold for further consideration. Today, a federal court issued a nationwide order to suspend the vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors. This follows a Nov. 30 federal court order to suspend the CMS vaccine mandate for health care workers.

As a result, UA’s vaccine requirement is suspended. At this time, UA will not be required to take action regarding unvaccinated employees on Jan. 4, 2022.

Because the ultimate outcome of legal challenges is not decided, we will continue to closely monitor legal developments and provide guidance to employees.

If the injunctions are lifted by the courts, UA must be ready to comply with federal requirements. If you are an employee (including student employees) who does not already have a COVID-19 vaccine record or an approved vaccine exemption on file with UA, please consider taking the following steps as a voluntary measure:

Taking these voluntary steps now will help ensure (1) medical, disability or religious exemption requests are processed in a timely manner, and (2) UA can achieve compliance if the injunctions are lifted. It also provides UA’s health and safety leadership important data to guide future decisions about on-campus safety strategies.

We remain encouraged by the high vaccination rates previously voluntarily reported by faculty, staff and students, and continue to urge others to take advantage of the free vaccines. The protection afforded by the vaccine has been essential in keeping positive case numbers low.

Online System for Reporting COVID-19 Vaccination, Requesting Exemption Now Available

NOTE Nov. 11: The University is required to ensure that all UA employees receive their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 4, 2022, unless they have an approved medical, disability, or religious exemption.

Faculty, staff and student employees:

As a follow up to the Friday, Oct. 22, communication announcing The University of Alabama’s obligation to comply with President Biden’s Executive Order 14042, the Vaccine Management Portal is now available for all faculty, staff, and student employees to report vaccination status or request a disability/medical or religious exemption.

All employees must take action in the portal. All student employees must also take action in the portal. Those who uploaded vaccination documents to receive an incentive must still complete this process.

Those who were vaccinated on campus through the University Medical Center, Student Health Center or on-campus mobile unit need only provide permission through the portal for their COVID-19 vaccination information to be shared for this purpose.

Those who were vaccinated off campus must provide proof of vaccination by uploading a copy of one of the following documents:

  • CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card;
  • Record of immunization from a health care provider or pharmacy;
  • Medical records documenting the vaccination;
  • Immunization records from a public health or state immunization information system; or
  • Other official documentation verifying vaccination with the vaccine name, administration date, and the name of the health care professional or clinic site administering the vaccine.

Employees requesting a religious exemption are strongly encouraged to complete the COVID-19 Vaccine Exemption Request Form (via the portal) no later than Nov. 12 to allow adequate time for review and additional action — if needed — before the Dec. 8 deadline.

Employees requesting an exemption due to a disability/medical condition, including pregnancy, must first have their medical provider complete the Medical Provider Inquiry Form and attach the completed form when filling out the COVID-19 Vaccine Exemption Request Form. Submissions are strongly encouraged no later than Nov. 12 to allow adequate time for review and additional action — if needed — before the Dec. 8 deadline.

As a reminder, pursuant to the terms of the Executive Order and accompanying guidance, UA faculty, staff, and student employees must be FULLY VACCINATED OR HAVE AN APPROVED EXEMPTION by Dec. 8, 2021.

IMPORTANT DATES:

  • Nov. 12 – vaccination exemption requests strongly encouraged by this date
  • Nov. 24 – last day to receive final dose to be fully vaccinated by deadline
  • Dec. 8 – deadline to be fully vaccinated or receive approved exemption

Find more information about vaccine requirements and current health and safety protocols at the healthinfo.ua.edu website or contact the HR Service Center at 205-348-7732and hrsvctr@ua.edu.

Update to Campus Health and Safety Guidelines

Consistent with Executive Order 14042 and accompanying guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, effective Nov. 5, 2021, face coverings will no longer be required for fully vaccinated individuals in most University of Alabama facilities. Current rules remain in effect until then.

After Nov. 4, masks will only be required:

  1. For unvaccinated individuals indoors, and in crowded outdoor settings or during outdoor activities that involve sustained close contact with others who are unvaccinated;
  2. For all individuals in patient clinical-care settings, including the University Medical Center, the Student Health Center, the Capstone Village assisted living and specialty care units, Brewer-Porch Children’s Center, and the Working on Womanhood program; and
  3. For all individuals on Crimson Ride buses.

Unvaccinated individuals will not be required to wear masks when eating or drinking while maintaining appropriate distancing, when alone in an office with floor-to-ceiling walls and a closed door, while actively exercising, or in residence hall rooms.

To the extent practicable, individuals who are not fully vaccinated should maintain social distancing.

Anyone, including those who are fully vaccinated, should feel comfortable choosing to wear a mask, even when not required.

These face covering requirements may be updated as necessary to comply with changes to federal guidance or as needed to respond to a substantial rise in community transmission.

As additional background, on Oct. 22, 2021, UA announced that Executive Order 14042 and guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force require UA to ensure all employees, including student employees, are fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, 2021, unless granted an approved medical, disability, or religious exemption. The same federal guidance states: “In areas of low or moderate community transmission, fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask. Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to physically distance regardless of the level of transmission in the area. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask indoors and in certain outdoor settings…” Tuscaloosa County is currently an area of moderate community transmission and numbers are trending downward.

Visit healthinfo.ua.edu for additional information on masking and distancing or the vaccine requirement for UA employees.

Federal Order Requires COVID-19 Vaccination for University Employees

Note Nov. 5: Please review the most recent update for Mandatory Vaccination Deadlines

University faculty, staff and student employees:

As many of you may know, President Joe Biden recently signed Executive Order 14042, which has been the focus of guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. This order and guidance from the federal government require all federal contractors and subcontractors to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, including those who work at a university with federal contracts.

As a federal contractor, The University of Alabama, like most higher education institutions, must comply with the Executive Order and accompanying guidance. Consequently, the University is required to ensure that all UA employees are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by December 8, 2021, unless they have an approved medical, disability, or religious exemption.

Because this vaccination requirement is mandated by the federal government, UA does not have flexibility in its application or enforcement. Failure to comply will place The University of Alabama in jeopardy of losing hundreds of millions of dollars that we receive through federal contracts and awards as well as thousands of jobs funded, in part, by those dollars.

We continue to closely examine and monitor these federal mandates. In the meantime, if you have not yet been vaccinated, you should begin the process promptly to ensure compliance by the December 8 deadline. The timeframes in which you should act vary, depending on the vaccine manufacturer:

  • Moderna: The first dose must be administered no later than six weeks in advance of December 8, which is October 27, and the second dose no later than November 24, which is two weeks before December 8.
  • Pfizer: The first dose must be administered no later than five weeks in advance of December 8, which is November 3, and the second dose by November 24.
  • Johnson & Johnson: The single required dose must be administered no later than November 24.

All three vaccine options are available at no cost through the University Medical Center, Student Health Center or a number of other medical facilities or pharmacies, but timelines for the two-dose vaccines are short, so schedule your appointment now. The University continues to believe that vaccination is the most effective way to combat COVID-19. More details and frequently asked questions about the vaccines are provided on the healthinfo.ua.edu/vaccine webpage or contact the HR Service Center at 205-348-7732 and hrsvctr@ua.edu

We will follow up soon with more detailed guidance, including information on uploading records and applying for medical, disability, or religious exemptions. We recognize that this is an important topic that will generate many strong feelings. Thank you for your consideration and patience as we finalize details and processes.

Indoor mask rule updated, extended through Oct. 1 in all non-residential buildings

Effective today, the UA campus requirement for face coverings while indoors has been updated and extended through Oct. 1. Face coverings are now required inside all non-residential campus buildings, including all classrooms and academic buildings, and on campus transportation. The rule applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

Limited exceptions include:

  • In office workspaces when distanced
  • When alone in offices and private workspaces
  • In residence hall rooms
  • In residential common areas when distanced
  • While actively eating or drinking (in dining venues – while seated at a table)
  • While actively exercising
  • When teaching, if distanced and behind plexiglass

College of Community Health Sciences Dean Dr. Ricky Friend emphasizes the effectiveness and importance of interventions like masks and vaccinations to maintain the momentum of the full in-person fall semester experience. UA COVID-19 positives continue to trend below similar timelines from last spring semester, and substantially below last fall, and this update will keep us headed in the right direction.

The campus Situational Response Team and UA System Health and Safety Task Force will continue monitoring the situation on campus and in the community, including guidance and data provided by medical professionals.

UA to Reinstate Indoor Mask Rule; Will Review and Monitor

The University of Alabama will require face coverings indoors on campus, where and when distancing is not possible, beginning Friday, Aug. 6. This requirement applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Given the increase in COVID cases and recent CDC guidance, UA is taking this step to further protect the Fall 2021 semester.

With this new requirement, masks must be worn:

  • In classrooms and classroom buildings, regardless of distancing
  • In personal meeting spaces, such as meetings with faculty and advisors
  • When gathering in common spaces, such as the Student Center
  • On campus transportation

Exceptions include:

  • Indoor areas when distanced
  • When alone in offices and private workspaces
  • In residence hall rooms
  • While eating or drinking
  • While exercising
  • Faculty teaching, if distanced and behind plexiglass

The indoor masking requirement is intended to be temporary and will be reviewed after the first two weeks of classes. Guidance and data are continually reviewed by medical professionals and administrators working with the campus Situational Response Team and the UA System Health and Safety Task Force.

Vaccinations are the key to a successful fall semester and the key to moving beyond these types of requirements,” stated Dr. Ricky Friend, Dean of the College of Community Health Sciences.  “Everyone is strongly encouraged to be vaccinated. Data continue to show the vaccines provide very strong protection against serious illness and hospitalization.”

Schedule your vaccination appointment today, or let us know if you’ve been vaccinated. Students who upload proof of vaccination will qualify for $20 Bama Cash.

“Our vaccine numbers among faculty and staff are strong – the percentage vaccinated more than doubles the statewide number. We are still learning about students who were vaccinated over the summer, and will be offering expanded opportunities for vaccination as classes approach. Again, vaccination is key,” Friend said.

Check the UA HealthInfo website for the latest information.

COVID Delta Variant and Vaccinations

Dear members of our UA Community:

We are excited to welcome students back to campus in the coming weeks, while closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 and the Delta variant. The Delta variant is more infectious and is leading to increased hospitalizations and other negative outcomes – especially among those not vaccinated.

The best way to keep COVID-19 and variants like Delta from affecting your campus experience, and those of your fellow faculty, staff and students, is through widespread vaccination.

Consider these points:

  • The COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and symptomatic disease.
  • While it’s still possible to contract COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated (especially with the Delta variant), the symptoms are milder, and hospitalization or death is rare.
  • Preliminary data from several states indicate 99.5% of US COVID-19 deaths were among the unvaccinated.
  • Reports suggest the Delta variant is causing hospitalizations among younger people, especially the unvaccinated.

I am grateful to the many of you who have already chosen to be vaccinated or plan to do so soon. Whether you received your vaccine on campus or from a community provider, you are helping us Protect Our Herd.

Students who report proof of their vaccination status will receive $20 Bama Cash as a thank you gift for doing their part. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, our University Medical Center and Student Health Center continue to offer vaccinations at no out-of-pocket cost.

Thanks for protecting our herd. Roll Tide!

Richard Friend, MD
Dean, College of Community Health Sciences
Associate Dean
University of Alabama School of Medicine
Tuscaloosa Campus