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Alabama’s GuideSafe campus reentry program has tested 75,000 students for COVID-19; Less than 1% positive

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on Thursday organized a teleconference with three of the experts who have helped in the effort to allow Alabama college and university students to return to campus this fall semester.

GuideSafe was developed by a team of experts at UAB, with support from the University of Alabama System and the State of Alabama, to promote a safe reentry to higher education campuses and provide ongoing COVID-19 monitoring for students and the community at large.

The GuideSafe Entry Testing initiative, which began August 4, is assisting in having every student tested for coronavirus before returning to campus. Students testing positive must undergo quarantine protocols and produce a subsequent negative test before reentering their respective campus community.

Bob Phillips, executive director of GuideSafe Entry Testing, outlined to members of the media that the program had 13 testing sites in the state and also allowed out-of-state students to return mail-in test kits.

The results thus far have been encouraging, giving a strong baseline as classes resumed this week on several campuses.

“As of this morning, we’ve tested approximately 75,000 individuals around the state, and I believe our prevalence rate is about 0.75% positive. So, of those 75,000, less than 1% have come back positive in our reporting,” he said.

Students were also allowed the choice to test through their private physicians, although the cost of this option was not covered by GuideSafe. The results of these tests were not included in the GuideSafe numbers publicized on Thursday. However, the same rules apply for these tests: a positive result means mandatory quarantining until a negative result occurs. Schools voluntarily releasing their respective data sets are including all testing results, not just GuideSafe results.

“We look at it holistically as we are a big tool, but not the only tool, for students to get those tests completed,” added Phillips.

Dr. Mike Saag, M.D., director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Disease, emphasized that the testing effort has required “a lot of collaboration.”

“This has been quite an endeavor,” he remarked.

Reentry testing is expected to continue over the coming days.

Following the conclusion of reentry testing, GuideSafe will conduct sentinel testing (a form of sampling and prevalence monitoring) over the course of the fall semester.

“[I]t is one of the many tools available through GuideSafe to help colleges and universities maintain as safe of a campus environment as they can,” explained Phillips of sentinel testing.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn