Officials at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say students who don’t follow the school’s COVID safety rules won’t be allowed to take classes this fall, and one student has already been suspended for non-compliance.
UAB President Dr. Ray Watts said at a press conference Friday that students and employees had to participate in mandatory safety training and have been warned that compliance with masking, social distancing and the use of symptom trackers was required.
“Part of that safety training explains that we will have a zero-tolerance policy for non-compliance with the safety measures such as masks and social distancing,” Watts said. “For our students there’s a progressive Code of Conduct disciplinary path. For employees, their supervisors and others will advise them that they need to be compliant. If they’re not, then they will not be able to come on this campus.”
UAB spokesman Tyler Greer confirmed later on Friday that so far one student had been removed from class and issued an interim suspension due to non-compliance.
The warning comes as college campuses across the state have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 cases shortly after students returned to campus.
Tuscaloosa implemented a two-week closure of bars after the flagship University of Alabama campus reported 531 new cases in the first week of school. The Tuscaloosa campus has now reported more than 1,000 new cases since classes resumed on Aug. 19.
The Auburn City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting bars from serving alcohol to people who were standing after a surge of 207 cases on the Auburn University campus, and photos showing dense crowds in bars.
Watts said UAB would initiate conversations with the student after a first violation, per the student conduct policy. But, if the student continued to defy the rules, Watts said they would not be allowed to take classes on campus.
“We are using a peer-to-peer process to encourage everyone to practice these safe measures,” Watts said. “If they don’t, or they were willingly, repetitively non-compliant, then they will not be able to participate in this fall semester.”
In addition to the one student who was suspended, Greer said some others had not yet completed the required protocols for re-entry: testing, completing the safety training module or using Health Check symptom tracker. Those students will not be allowed to return to class until they complete those requirements. Continued non-compliance will result in an interim suspension.
Watts said he believed the school had gotten off to a “great start” in the first week, with few non-compliance issues.
“I’ve been so proud of our students and all of our employees, for being so diligent with following these safety measures,” Watts said. “Wearing their mask at all times, and not gathering in groups and taking this as seriously as we need to.”
UAB students interviewed Wednesday by AL.com said they felt safe on campus due to the precautions implemented by the school.
“Honestly, I feel like things are a lot safer here than a lot of other places,” said UAB sophomore Jamaal Burks, a biology/pre-med major who lives on campus. “I think we’ll make it through the year. With all the steps [UAB has] taken, I think we’re doing real good.”
UAB football set to kick-off Sept. 3
Watts said the on-campus safety measures would also extend to Thursday night, when the UAB football team is scheduled to kick off its 2020 season against Central Arkansas at Legion Field.
“Our athletics department has worked with our medical and public health staff and with Legion Field and the city to make sure that Legion Field is outfitted to ensure safety and to ensure social distancing,” Watts said. “Anyone without a mask will not be able to come to our event, anyone who violates the safety measures will be asked to leave.”
Watts said the coaches and players have been tested multiple times with no positive cases, and that all players will be tested within 24 hours of the game.
“No one will be allowed on the field who has not been tested within the 24 hours beforehand,” Watts said. “But we’ve got to have the cooperation of our fans, our students and our fans and our employees, at an event like this.
“We’re not having any large events where we gather and are close together and don’t have masks or anything like that.”
Local businesses pledge safety
In addition to restrictions on campus, Watts said UAB is reaching out to businesses in the area surrounding the campus to ask them to sign a pledge to help limit the spread among the larger Birmingham community by enforcing social distancing and masking rules.
“[We] wrote a letter to all the businesses around us in the areas of downtown and Five Points, Lakeview and Avondale, asking them to participate with us and help keep our students particularly safe when they’re off campus especially when they were first coming back to campus, and naturally would want to socialize,” Watts said.
“We’ve observed what’s happened elsewhere, and so we felt like this was important for us to work with our community businesses and solicit their help.”
The pledge is as follows:
“As a local business, we respect and support the University of Alabama at Birmingham student community and what they are working to accomplish at UAB. As a local business that welcomes and is proud to support UAB students, we pledge that – in the interest of their health and safety – we will require masks, social distancing, crowd control and other proven safety strategies. As a partner with UAB in our shared community, we are proud to be #UABUnited.”
Businesses who participate can download and post a sign in the window stating their commitment. As of Friday afternoon, the following businesses were participating:
5 Point Public HouseBlueprint on 3rdBlueRootDave’s PubDorothy McDaniel’sFILTER- Coffee ParlorGrandview Financial GroupGhafari Associates, LLCiiis optical shopJim N NicksMakarios Kabob and GrillOceanOrbit SalonReed BooksStraticeSurin WestThe Red BarnTrue40 Fitness StudioYellowhammer Creative