UA plans return to pre-pandemic operations in fall semester

Isabel Hope, Assistant News Editor

The University released its health and safety plan for the fall semester on July 20, one month ahead of classes. ​​A larger student population will descend on Tuscaloosa in August as campus returns to pre-pandemic operations.

Masks will not be required on campus in the fall, except in clinical settings, but unvaccinated individuals are expected to wear masks inside campus buildings and continue to practice social distancing “wherever possible.” Physical distancing, COVID-19 training, reentry testing and sentinel testing will not be required, and faculty are not required to offer remote learning options for students. 

All faculty, staff and students are still required to report positive COVID-19 tests to the University. The Student Health Center continues to provide testing for students. 

Per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Alabama Department of Public Health, unvaccinated individuals will be subject to quarantine protocols, and the University will provide limited on-campus quarantine housing for students who test positive. 

Pursuant to state law, the University will not mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for attendance, but vaccination is encouraged. 

“We strongly encourage every member of our campus community to be vaccinated — to keep you and our campus safe,” UA President Stuart Bell said. “As we continue our participation on the UA System Health and Safety Task Force, we will be nimble and responsive to fluid circumstances and will keep you advised of any necessary changes as we move forward.”

University Medical Center and the Student Health Center will continue to provide vaccines to faculty, staff and students for free. The University will introduce vaccine incentive programs but has not yet released plans for the program. 

“A robust, on-campus educational experience is important,” UA System Chancellor Finis St. John said. “Prioritizing the health and safety of our campus communities is also essential. The best way to protect your community and sustain continued on-campus operations is to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

The health and safety plan encourages students, faculty and staff to report their vaccination status if they were vaccinated at an off-campus site. 

In the last 14 days, COVID-19 cases in Tuscaloosa county have increased 680%, 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. 

The most up-to-date information can be found on the Health Info website.