Alabama university and health officials are hopeful that a statewide monitoring platform will lower the spread of COVID-19 on campuses this fall. The program, called GuideSafe, officially launched Monday and includes free testing, symptom monitoring and contact tracing via mobile applications.
UAB and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) collaborated on the initiative, funded with more than $30 million of federal CARES Act money allocated by Gov. Kay Ivey.
“This is an ongoing effort to make sure we give our colleges the best chance to return their students safely, understanding their testing status and their COVID status,” said Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of the UAB School of Medicine.
Testing will gear up this week. Every student attending a public four-year college in Alabama, as well as those who live on campus at two-year colleges, are required to receive a negative test result before returning to campus. The new testing requirement doesn’t necessarily apply at all of Alabama’s private institutions, though state health officials encourage all college students to be tested.
A pilot testing program has already begun in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, and 11 additional testing sites will launch Tuesday throughout the state. Students will receive an email with a web link to register for an appointment. Out-of-state students will complete testing via a mail-in program.
UAB pathology labs will process all student tests administered via GuideSafe. They anticipate running more than 10,000 tests per day using a batch process. The turnaround is expected to be 24 to 48 hours.
Students are also required to log any coronavirus symptoms through a mobile and web application. Students are encouraged, though not required, to use an exposure notification application, which alerts users when they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 for longer than 15 minutes. UAB officials said Alabama is one of the first states to launch this type of initiative, which uses technology developed by Google and Apple. The university started a pilot program Monday, hoping to enroll 10,000 iPhone users and 10,000 Android users to test the application before making it public.
Officials with UAB and ADPH said they plan to make all GuideSafe applications free and accessible to the public. The HealthCheck app is already available to any school, business or community partner. They also plan to expand the UAB-led testing platform to the public within the next few weeks. Officials said they hope this will assist with a statewide testing backlog, which has sparked a turnaround time of about seven days.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a clarification issued Wednesday afternoon by the Alabama Department of Public Health noting that the requirement for student COVID-19 testing applies to Alabama’s public four-year colleges, and to students at two-year public institutions who reside on campus. It does not necessarily apply to students at private colleges in Alabama as an earlier press release from the state health agency indicated.