Governor Kay Ivey on Monday awarded $30 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) money to be used to establish COVID-19 testing and safety development programs. The state of Alabama will provide the $30 million to support two programs, Testing for Alabama and Stay Safe Together. The programs will be implemented by a coalition led by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $250 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to be used to support the delivery of health care and related services to citizens of Alabama.
“The agreement between the state of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Public Health and UAB is exactly the type of public-private partnership that is needed to adequately respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Governor Kay Ivey. “We will only be able to acquire critical, life-saving resources by working together. Living with the coronavirus is our ‘new normal,’ and I appreciate the combined efforts to ensure that as we get back to our daily routines, we can do so safely as well as helping our valued researchers gain new information to combat this disease.”
Testing for Alabama will create a consortium of entities, led by UAB, that will work with the Alabama Department of Public Health, to establish and support a broad, robust re-entry testing platform focused primarily of Alabama’s public institutions of higher education and two-year colleges. This will give all universities in the state a chance to set a baseline as students return, enabling institutions to better identify hotspots and potential COVID-19 problems on campuses through sentinel testing throughout the 2020-2021 school year.
Additional targeted testing will be implemented in certain underserved regions and locations in Alabama with identified health care disparities. Protocols for how testing will be administered are in progress with a nasal swab (not the nasopharyngeal swab) or a saline gargle test under development at UAB are eyed as potential options. Testing out-of-state students before they arrive on campuses is also a goal of the Testing for Alabama program.
“Our ability to test every student returning to campus will go a long way in helping us maintain a safe environment,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “We are excited that, through this partnership with Governor Ivey and the state of Alabama, we will have the ability to make testing available across our System and to public colleges and universities throughout the state. On behalf of UAB and the UA System, we thank Gov. Ivey for investing in this important program that will promote health across the state.”
Stay Safe Together is a COVID-19 notification app currently being developed by UAB. The platform includes a COVID-19 assessment tool that allows individuals to log their coronavirus related health status and symptoms that is backed by Google and Apple technology that can anonymously alert someone if they are at risk from being in proximity to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This platform will be potentially available to all public institutions of higher education in the state, as well as all public K-12 schools in the state.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is going to continue at least into the fall and early winter, and the Alabama Department of Public Health wants to ensure we are doing everything we can to give our state the best opportunity to navigate the crisis as safely and effectively as possible,” said Scott Harris, state health officer and co-chair of Testing for Alabama. “This free testing opportunity for all public college students will enable our state universities to have their finger on the pulse of what the prevalence of this infection is among their student body as they return and, over time, gives them the ability to monitor any change.”
The exposure notification smartphone app is in development and anticipated to be ready in time for the fall semester.