UA students can expect fewer COVID-19 restrictions in the fall

COVID-19 cases are spiking in Tuscaloosa and vaccination rates are low, but students can expect fewer restrictions when they return to campus in August. 

Isabel Hope, Assistant News Editor

A month ahead of the fall semester, the University has not released an official health and safety return plan. 

Last year, the University of Alabama System released a 22-page Comprehensive Health and Safety Return Plan for the fall semester in early June. UA administrators are currently finalizing plans for fall operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the last 14 days, Tuscaloosa county has seen a 200% increase in COVID-19 cases, and there has been a national spike in reported cases. 

The emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is the United States’ dominant strain of COVID-19, is spreading rapidly among young people. 

Dr. Richard Friend, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences, said increasing the number of vaccinated students, faculty and staff will help prevent serious illness on campus. He stressed that the University is monitoring new cases on campus and testing symptomatic individuals. 

“We know that the numbers of [COVID-19 cases] are very low,” Friend said. “We also know that for anybody who’s been vaccinated, their risk of serious illness or death is very, very small. So I would encourage everyone to get their vaccination.”

Alabama reports the lowest vaccination rate in the United States. About a third of the state’s population has received a vaccine, and Tuscaloosa mirrors this trend. 

According to the University, more than 14,000 vaccines have been administered through UA facilities, and about 2,600 individuals have self-reported vaccinations received at off-campus facilities. 

Student enrollment numbers have not been released for the fall semester, but the incoming freshman class is expected to exceed the 8,500 beds available in residence halls on campus. Students planning to live in residence halls are being encouraged to live at The Lofts at City Center, an off-campus apartment complex that the University leased last year.

A larger campus population in the fall will be coupled with fewer COVID-19 restrictions. 

The University does not currently mandate masks for fully vaccinated individuals. Face coverings are required for unvaccinated people unless they are outdoors, alone in an office space, actively participating in athletic activities or participating in intercollegiate activities. Face coverings are required for all individuals on Crimson Ride buses, in the Student Health Center and in other clinical settings on campus. 

UA Vice President of Student Life Myron Pope said these protocols could change before the fall semester and that the University is relying on individuals to follow the campus mask policy. The University will not confirm an individual’s vaccination status.

Friend said he has not received protocol guidance for his department, but expects the UA System Office to provide guidelines soon.

There are no official guidelines for classroom capacities yet, but Pope said classroom capacity limits are unlikely. 

Deidre Stalnaker, UA director of communications, said the University is planning a COVID-19 vaccine dashboard for the fall semester, but further details are unavailable at this time.  

The UA System created a COVID-19 dashboard to report positive test results for students, faculty and staff. The dashboard did not report the total number of COVID-19 tests administered. The most recent update was reported in April 2021.

 “All students, faculty and staff are currently eligible to receive vaccines through UA’s program,” Stalnaker said. “We encourage everyone to be vaccinated. Details about vaccine availability at UA can be found on the website.”