University of Alabama System intends on returning to pre-COVID normal for fall semester
The University of Alabama System on Monday announced that its three distinct institutions plan to return to traditional in-person instruction without restrictions on classroom capacity for the fall 2021 semester.
While UA System campuses this ongoing spring semester continue to offer a mixture of traditional, hybrid and virtual classes while implementing campus-wide advanced health and safety protocols, current plans would see the upcoming fall semester return to operations akin to fall 2019, the last full semester before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday’s announcement allows for course planning and registration for fall 2021 courses to take place as usual in the coming weeks. It also continues the UA System’s national leadership on following the science and spearheading a safe return to the classroom.
Beginning in spring 2020, the UA System Health and Safety Task Force developed a state-of-the-art plan for a return to in-person instruction that became a national model for colleges, universities, corporations and non-profit organizations.
The renowned leadership and strategy, which incorporates masking, social distancing, safety training, symptom tracking, sentinel testing and contact tracing as well as guidelines for activities on- and off-campus, enabled the completion of a full academic year on the three UA System campuses via hybrid, online and socially distanced in-person classes.
Now, the UA System Health and Safety Task Force, comprised of public health and infectious disease experts and administrators from the University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and UAB Medicine, has made the unified recommendation to the chancellor and the board of trustees to return to normal operations in the fall; this was done in accordance with data, including modeling developed by UAB School of Public Health epidemiologist Suzanne Judd, Ph.D.
Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of the UAB School of Medicine and chair of the UA System Health and Safety Task Force, commented on Monday in a statement, “Our models give us confidence in the strong likelihood that we’ll have a safe environment for traditional classrooms and on-campus activities by the fall.”
“Of course, we will continue to make every effort to abide by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Alabama Department of Public Health guidance and make data-driven decisions,” he continued. “If safety concerns arise, we can adjust our plan; the safety of the 110,000 students, faculty and staff of the UA System remains our top priority as it has since our Task Force began its work one year ago when COVID-19 began to emerge.”
While Dr. Judd’s projections are based on known COVID cases, vaccinations administered and the projected number of people who have immunity but never received a positive test, the UA System Health and Safety Task Force urges individuals to remain committed to safe practices, such as masking and social distancing, in order to make the model a reality.
“The return to normal operations would not be possible without the leadership of our campus presidents – UA President Stuart Bell, UAB President Ray Watts and UAH President Darren Dawson – who have skillfully implemented the health and safety measures recommended by our world-renowned medical experts,” stated UA System Chancellor Finis St. John in making Monday’s announcement.
The chancellor cited the work of hundreds of front-line health care staff and their counterparts across the UA System who have worked throughout the pandemic on implementation of the Health and Safety plan.
It should be noted that a return to normal operations would span academics, student life and athletics — including a full Bryant-Denny Stadium in the fall, should the plans come to fruition.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn