UA System sees record low COVID-19 cases

As vaccine distribution expands, sentinel reporting will pare down.

Meghan Schiano | @megschiano, Contributing Writer

 The UA System COVID-19 Dashboard reported a record low number of COVID-19 cases among employees in its most recent update, and another week of low student cases. According to Friday’s dashboard update, three UA employees and 24 UA students tested positive since March 12. 

“Increased vaccinations coupled with continued adherence to guidelines set forth by the UA System Health & Safety Task Force will provide for our planned return to normal operations and full capacity in the fall 2021 semester,” the UA System press release said. 

System sees record low number of cases

This is the lowest number of employee cases reported System-wide in a single week since the pandemic began, and this was the fifth consecutive week that fewer than 25 UA students tested positive. During the spring semester, more than 744 UA students have tested positive, but 80% of those cases were reported within the first three weeks of students returning from winter break. 

In late September, the University extended winter break and replaced its originally planned weeklong spring break with a mid-semester wellness and study day on March 15. The University aimed to minimize travel and reduce the spread of the virus. 

Across all UA System campuses, there were 50 cases reported among students, faculty, staff and clinical enterprise employees, which includes employees at UAB Hospital. 

The dashboard includes positive test results from individuals who were tested on campus. A student or employee tested off campus must report their results to the University to be included in the dashboard’s count.  

Sentinel reporting continues, but on biweekly basis

The UA System did not report results this week from its sentinel testing program, which randomly samples asymptomatic members of the campus community to understand the spread of the virus on campus.  

After falling short of its sentinel testing goal last semester, the University included incentives, such as Bama Cash and gift cards, to encourage participation from selected individuals. The program has surpassed the number of tests conducted during the fall with more than five weeks left in the semester. 

The University has been consistent in the original spring semester plan of biweekly testing of at least 2.5% of the campus after the first three weeks of spring term. Sentinel testing results were published on the dashboard every week until Feb. 25. Now, results are being shared every two weeks. 

The most recent sentinel testing results reported on March 11 showed a 0.2% positivity for the 1,500 tests administered.   

Vaccines distribution expands 

All UA System campuses continue their vaccine distribution programs. The University’s allocation plan adheres to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Phase 1b, which allows vaccines for higher education employees. The University prioritized faculty, staff, first responders and frontline workers initially but will now extend vaccinations to student workers as well. 

The UA System said all eligible employees will receive invitations for the vaccine by the end of March. A UA News release said all eligible UA employees were offered the first dose of the vaccine by March 12. 

Now, the University will extend offers to essential student workers with high levels of face-to-face interactions.

On March 22, the state of Alabama will enter Phase 1c of vaccine eligibility, which will expand to include individuals aged 16 or older with high-risk medical conditions, individuals aged 65 and older and additional critical workers.