UAB, ADPH launch “largest-scale higher education testing initiative” in country

Launch of GuideSafe: Preparing for college students' return

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – Many students attending any public or private college in Alabama will be required to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus.

The testing is free and made available through GuideSafe, an initiative funded with CARES Act money and led by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

The higher-education entry plan includes widespread testing, mitigation practices and digital tools to share and report information about the virus.

“We believe in many ways this is a model for our country but in most of all, we want to provide the best service for our citizens, including our students who are returning to college,” said Dr. Selwyn Vickers, Dean, UAB School of Medicine.

“We have already tested this in our employees returning over the last several months so we know this process works if it’s attended to diligently and that’s the safety measures along with [GuideSafe] Healthcheck, along with if somebody does develop symptoms or does have positive tests, we have very rigorous medical and public health algorithms that our students and employees would go through,” added Dr. Ray Watts, President, UAB.

GuideSafe Healthcheck is an online COVID-19 assessment tool that allows users to report their symptoms. Students in the University of Alabama System will be required to use the tool at least every three days.

According to the GuideSafe website, the tool assesses responses and assigns the user one of three categories, “Least Risk, May be at Risk, or Greater Risk – each with its own instructions on how to proceed to campus or work.”

The GuideSafe platform includes Event Passport, a tool used to determine whether a user is cleared to attend a meeting or facility with ten or more people, and the Exposure Notification App.

The app, “built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs in conjunction with ADPH and integrating Google and Apple’s Exposure Notification System (ENS),” launched its pilot phase Monday.

“Using the ability of technology through the exposure notification app is really powerful and, in many ways, we have led the country in developing this that we want to make available for students and all citizens of our state,” said Dr. Vickers.

One of the main components of the entry program is testing for COVID-19. Testing will begin Tuesday at 11 sites across the state, in addition to pilot sites in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

The tests will be processed by UAB’s Department of Pathology, using a process it developed, with results available within 48 hours.

COVID-19 testing is required by many public or private four-year colleges in the state of Alabama and for two-year college students who reside on campus.

For other schools, COVID-19 testing is strongly encouraged but not required.  Specific testing protocols are directed by each campus.

Contact each college at the link below for campus-specific entry testing rules and regulations:

“We devised a simpler way of collecting specimens, allowing students to do a nasal swab themselves, making it faster and easier than the nasopharyngeal swab, which requires a healthcare professional to administer,” said Dr. George Netto, the Robert and Ruth Anderson Endowed Chair of UAB’s Department of Pathology. “Using nasal swabs and our in-house developed pooling strategy will enable us to significantly ramp up capacity while maintaining full testing accuracy.”

UAB President Watts said he is confident the plan in place will be successful, “as long as everyone’s human behavior is in the right manner.”

He continued, “[students need] to understand it is vital to comply with this program because that’s the only way they’re going to be able to come back to college or university and do it safely .”

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