Masks are now required indoors on campus regardless of vaccination status as of July 28 following new CDC guidelines. No additional details about how this will affect students have been released yet.
“UAB will require face coverings indoors on campus – regardless of vaccine status – effective Thursday, July 29,” the latest update stated.
This decision came two days after the protocols announced on July 20 were put into effect that loosened almost all COVID-19 restrictions, calling it a return to “pre-pandemic policies.” Mask requirements were originally lifted on May 24.
The latest CDC guidance that prompted this change says vaccinated individuals should wear a mask indoors in public settings in areas of substantial or high transmission as well as “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
Exceptions for masking indoors on campus apply similarly to how they did during the fall and spring semesters. Students can unmask in their residence hall rooms, employees can unmask in private workspaces and individuals can briefly unmask when eating or drinking so long as six feet of distance can be maintained.
When asked about how this will change operations, such as returning to only allowing one person to a table in the Hill Student Center, Pam Benoit, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, said “it may be that people will simply come in and pick things up and then eat outside or in another location,” and that Student Affairs would have more information.
Central Alabama is currently under heat advisory by the National Weather Service until Saturday with heat index readings expect to rise above 105 each day.
Patricia Martinez, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and director of Division Operations, and Mary Wallace, assistant vice president for Student Experience were not available for comment at this time.
Benoit also stated how commencement will work is “actively under discussion.” No timeline was given for when a decision will be made.
UAB will determine when to no longer require masks by consulting data from the state to local and university levels.
“It’s not a single factor, it’s multiple factors that are used: caseload in the university, caseload in the county, caseload in the state, looking at hospitalizations, looking at number of students in quarantine or isolation. There are a whole variety of factors that have to go into making a decision,” Benoit said.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in Alabama, with there being more than 1,300 new cases per day from July 20 to 27 and 928 new cases on July 28.
“Alabama also has one of the lowest—if not the lowest—vaccination rates in the country right now,” said Sarah Nafziger, vice president of UAB Hospital Clinical Services.
UAB Hospital numbers are also rising with 65 inpatients with active infection and 14 additional patients that are convalesced, meaning they are no longer considered infectious to others and can be moved out of the COVID-19 units.
The average age of UAB’s COVID-19 patients has also lowered from 65 to 55 according to Nafziger.
“What do we think is driving that difference? It’s our vaccine. We know that the best uptake of vaccine in Alabama’s population is in that older age group, people who are age 65 or older and that seems to be giving them protection,” said Nafziger. “That’s really one of the best pieces of evidence we have to show you that the vaccine really works.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations of young children is also growing. There were 32 children with COVID-19 hospitalized on Monday.
“Short- and long-term risks of getting COVID far outweigh minimal risks associated with getting a vaccine,” according to the Wednesday update.
UAB students can get vaccinated at the pop-up clinics located in the Hill Student Center Performance Lounge every Monday. They will receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a free shirt or hat. Others that have already been vaccinated can upload their vaccination card to the patient portal and receive $20 in Blazer Bucks.