Cases decline as moratorium expires

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CW / Davida Franklin

Despite a lower case count this week, UA officials say student travel over Labor Day Weekend may cause a spike in the near future as the virus exits the incubation period. But for now, UA gets White House praise while simultaneously receiving national attention for leading the country in on-campus cases. 

Following the Labor Day break, the UA System COVID-19 Dashboard reported 307 new positive test results since Sept. 4. Students made up 294 of those cases, with 13 additional faculty and staff members testing positive. 

There have now been 2,218 total positive cases on campus since classes started, and 2,478 throughout all UA branches.

This is a 64% decrease from last week’s numbers. Fifteen percent of the University’s isolation beds are currently in use, which is a dropoff from last week’s 40%. This leaves 503 of the 593 beds unoccupied. The UA press release highlighted this decline but warned that more post-travel weekend tests may counteract these encouraging numbers. 

This decrease in daily cases comes after the University issued a moratorium on all student events outside of class and after Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox issued an executive order to close bars and and suspend bar services at restaurants for two weeks. Bar services resumed on Sept. 8 and the moratorium ended on Sunday. 

“I want to thank our students throughout the University of Alabama System for following the temporary protocols to protect everyone’s health and safety,” UA System Chancellor Finis St. John said. “Your efforts are paying off and we greatly appreciate your hard work and sacrifice.”

According to the press release, White House Administration’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx “commended the UA System for the decision to continue on-campus instruction, emphasizing that its surge and sentinel testing programs are essential to completing the semester.”

Birx visited the University on Friday, praising UA administration for their efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

UA President Stuart Bell, UA System Chancellor Finis St. John and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox joined Birx for a press conference Friday afternoon. 

At the press conference, Birx said that the UA administration’s actions to protect students and the community during the pandemic deserve an “extraordinarily high grade.”

“What we’ve seen in really successful institutions like The University of Alabama is a real coalition between students, the administration and the community all working together and following a single goal with 100% buy-in,” Birx said. “For that kind of coalition, I would give them an extraordinarily high grade.”

Birx said she will be traveling to other SEC Universities this week to meet with administrators, students and local government leaders to learn about how COVID-19 has impacted universities. 

Birx also praised students in how they have adapted to the challenges that the virus has caused on campus.

“They really understood, after that first week or two, that the consequences of becoming positive were far greater than their individual consequences of maybe feeling a very mild disease,” Birx said. “It could be transmitted to others who would then transmit to others and eventually hit a parent or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle.”

All students received an email Friday outlining the course of action for sentinel testing. Participating in this random testing is required for students who live on campus, participate in intramural athletics, belong to a registered student organization that will hold in-person meetings of 10 or more, or who have clinical activities and will be on campus during the semester. 

Those who are selected will receive an email prompting them to book a testing appointment in the next seven days.