More than a dozen sites are opening across Alabama to test about 200,000 students before they head to college and university campuses statewide, officials said Monday, but the program will help stem the spread of the new coronavirus only if students abide by guidelines at school.
While the mass testing program will screen all students before they arrive on campuses, the work “will have been for nothing” if they ignore rules about wearing masks and social distancing, said Finis St. John, head of the board that oversees the three-campus University of Alabama System.
With 14 testing sites scattered across the state opening Tuesday, no one should have to travel farther than 60 miles (95 kilometers) to get to one, said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who helped design the program, called GuideSafe. Test results should be available in a day.
Some students coming to an Alabama school from other states will receive an at-home test they can submit, and some will be able to submit test results from doctors’ offices or commercial laboratories.
The mandatory testing program will be accompanied by frequent reminders about the precautions like mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing that are required to avoid the spread of COVID-19, officials said during a virtual news conference. Voluntary testing during the academic year is meant to help track the disease.
Students also will be required to use a phone application that allows them to report whether they are sick or well. A separate, voluntary app will allow users to know whether they’ve been near a fellow user who tested positive for the disease.
The program is funded by $30 million in federal coronavirus assistance.
Although the state’s daily caseload appears to have leveled off some since a state requirement mandating face masks in public places went into effect last month, State Health Officer Scott Harris said Alabama’s overall numbers remain a concern.
Highlighting one improvement, Harris said a slightly smaller percentage of people are testing positive for the illness.
“We have to look hard sometimes for good news, but I do feel encouraged by that,” Harris said.
Almost 90,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Alabama and about 1,580 have died. While the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, it can be deadly for people with other health conditions and the elderly.
Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.