August 7, 2020
The College of Community Health Sciences oversaw COVID-19 testing in July of University of Alabama faculty and staff returning to campus for the fall semester.
“The idea is to make sure that when students come back, that all of our faculty and staff have had testing,” said Dr. Richard Friend, dean of CCHS. “The University is committed to ensuring that campus is the safest it can be.”
UA classes begin August 19 and, while not included in the July faculty and staff testing, UA students must also be tested for COVID-19 and receive negative test results within two weeks of returning to campus.
The mission of CCHS is to improve the health of Alabama communities, including the UA campus community. There are approximately 7,000 UA faculty and staff.
Testing of UA employees took place during an eight-day period the weeks of July 20 and July 29 at Coleman Coliseum on the UA campus. Faculty and staff were contacted via email for appointment times. They were screened outside of the coliseum using temperature checks and a verbal questionnaire and if they passed both, they entered the coliseum for testing.
A team of more than 50 employees from CCHS and University Medical Center, which the College operates, were at Coleman Coliseum daily to do the screening and testing. Appropriate personal protective equipment was used by those conducting COVID-19 testing, which required taking a nasopharyngeal specimen, face masks were required, and distancing precautions taken.
“This testing gives us a baseline,” said Dr. John C. Higginbotham, professor and chair of community medicine and population health for the College. Higginbotham is also UA’s senior associate vice president for Research and Economic Development, one of the UA divisions that helped coordinate the testing.
“For those who do test positive, we can do the best things we can to prevent spread of (the virus) on campus and be better prepared to start when the students come back,” Higginbotham said.
Ten of the College’s Sofia diagnostic testing machines were set up at Coleman Coliseum to test specimens and provide results. “We have a very accurate point-of-care test,” Friend said. “It has the ability to generate accurate results within 15 minutes,” although results were reported to tested employees a bit later to keep the testing process flowing.
Friend said the Sofia testing machines are currently among the most accurate point-of-care instruments on the market and what UMC has been using since mid-June. “University Medical Center has remained open. We’ve never closed, so we’ve been doing testing since the COVID pandemic started.”
For UA faculty and staff who tested positive for COVID-19, the University is following Alabama Department of Public Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine and contact protocols. “If they test positive, they will be asked to isolate for 14 days, and then they need two negative tests 48 hours apart to be able to return,” Higginbotham said.
He added: “We’re doing this testing to make it the best we can for fall. But we’re also still telling (faculty and staff) to wear a face mask, social distance and wash their hands as they come back to the University.”