By Cady Inabinett
As the university starts its spring semester, COVID-19 cases continue to surge nationwide—fueled mainly by the spread of the omicron variant. This has caused the university to reinstate COVID-19 related protocols and precautions that had been walked-back before the start of the spring semester.
Prior to the start of the spring semester, the university had announced that wearing masks would be optional. However, this was changed with a Jan. 6 update to campus COVID-19 protocols, which put in place temporary mask requirements to match those of the previous fall semester. These requirements maintain that all individuals are required to wear masks in academic buildings, labs and clinics, personal meeting spaces, indoor common areas, health service offices and during large indoor gatherings on campus. Masks are not required in residence halls, outdoors, while actively eating or drinking and while exercising.
Isolation protocols were also revised for the spring semester. Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms are required to self-isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms or a positive test. After the five-day isolation, students can return to campus only if they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without medication and symptoms have improved. Students must also wear a mask around others for five more days following their five-day isolation period.
University protocols outline similar measures for students who have tested positive but are asymptomatic. Students are to isolate for five days following the positive test and can return to campus if they do not experience symptoms during that isolation. However, if symptoms develop during the five-day isolation, the isolation period will start over.
All students who test positive for COVID-19 also should report their positivity via the university’s COVID-19 case reporting form.
Students who are experiencing symptoms and are still awaiting test results are encouraged to self-isolate. Additionally, students who are experiencing symptoms but have tested negative should be fever-free for 24 hours before returning to campus.
Those who have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 are not required to self-isolate—regardless of their vaccination status, but are asked to self-monitor their symptoms for 10 days.
Students who have to self-isolate are being asked to do so at home. Per the university’s isolation guidelines, “Only students who are unable to isolate at home will be assisted with campus accommodations.”
COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for students or faculty. This is in accordance to an Alabama state law passed in May 2021 that prohibits educational institutions from requiring vaccinations that were not already required as of Jan. 1, 2021. However, the university encourages students and faculty to get vaccinated, citing information from UAB saying that vaccinated individuals have lower rates of infection and experience fewer complications than unvaccinated individuals.
Students and faculty who wish to get vaccinated can do so at upcoming campus vaccination clinics on Feb. 2 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Feb. 3 from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at UM Health Services. These walk-in clinics will not require appointments and will only be open to the university’s campus.
The City of Montevallo will be hosting a walk-in vaccination clinic at Parnell Memorial Library Jan. 25 from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. COVID-19 original series doses, booster doses and pediatric doses for children ages 5-11 will all be available.
Individuals who wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or booster, but are unable to do so at the campus clinics or the City of Montevallo’s clinic, can do so at Montevallo Family Medicine, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s vaccine provider database. ADPH also offers vaccinations at the Shelby County Health Department, located in Pelham, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.
All COVID-19 vaccinations are free. Vaccination providers also cannot charge administration fees or copays, deny vaccination to the uninsured, charge for an office visit if the only service provided is the vaccination or require U.S. citizenship for vaccination.
Testing was not required for reentry for the spring semester. Random sentinel testing is not occurring either. However, voluntary testing is available at Student Health Services. According to ADPH’s test site database, testing is also available by appointment at Montevallo Family Medicine.
Additionally, free at-home tests can be ordered from COVIDtests.gov starting Jan. 19. Up to four tests can be ordered per household. However, tests are expected to ship within seven to 12 days after ordering.
According to the university’s COVD-19 Weekly Case Breakdown, there were 51 active student cases and 8 active employee cases Jan. 18. This is compared to 25 active student cases and 4 active employee cases the previous week. The Alabama Department of Public Health has determined Shelby County to have high levels of community transmission, with 42.9% of tests coming back positive from Jan. 7 until Jan. 14.