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UAB Officals Anticipate Virtual/Hybrid Learning Will Remain Through Spring.

By Diane Mwai & John H. Glenn

During a virtual town hall Friday, University of Alabama at Birmingham officials reported a low number of positive cases of COVID-19 on campus and suggested that virtual & hybrid learning will remain in place for the spring.

“Given that we know now, I don’t anticipate that there will be a major change in where we are now, in terms of the way that we are teaching courses,” said Pam Benoit, the senior vice president of academic affairs and provost at UAB

Benoit said she understands the need for people to know what will go on during the semester in terms of distance learning and will keep the campus updated on further developments. « Given the number of cases in our community,— we’ll continue to work through exactly what that will look like and involve different stakeholders in the discussion, » Benoit said.

UAB president Dr. Ray L. Watts said there are currently three students in residence halls who have contracted the coronavirus and are residing in quarantine space on campus.

“This past week 27 students were positive, seven academic university faculty and staff were positive, and 40 clinical enterprise employees were positive — for a total of 74. That’s less than 1 precent of our 40,000-plus employees and students,” Watts said.

After Watt’s statements, Benoit addressed confusion among faculty and students about the difference between UAB health-checks, the exposure notification app, and what it means if you get an exposure notification.

“We’re working on developing a set of power point slides that faculty can use in their class to talk about exactly what you do during that process that we think will be helpful. We anticipate those [presentations] will be out next week,” Benoit said.

Watts took time to talk about the importance of completing the health check in order to step on campus, saying, “It’s one minute to make sure that we are all being as healthy as possible, and that our instant command center and our leadership know if there any increases in symptoms.”

During a Q&A session, a question was asked about UAB’s response to a New York Times database that misleadingly reported UAB as having the most positive COVID-19 numbers of any university in the U.S

“For those of you who are not familiar, The Times combined our university numbers with those from our clinical enterprise and listed us as the No. 1 university hotspot for COVID.,” said Jim Bakken, interim chief communications officer at UAB.

“We were really disappointed to see the misrepresentation of UAB’s COVID positive numbers in The New York Times,” Bakken said.

Dr. Selwyn Vickers, the dean of the UAB School of Medicine, addressed whether professors should use face-shields or masks when teaching

He insisted that teachers should prioritize masks over face-shields.

“Wear both the face-shield and the mask if you can,” Vickers said.

Dr. Christopher Brown, Vice President for research at UAB, was the last to speak during the Q&A and discussed some recent complaints by PETA, which alleged animal mistreatment at UAB’s transplant lab.

They alleged that the lab had used Woolite laundry detergent on a baboon’s skin lesion, resulting in the animal’s death, and that expired drugs were used on a group of pigs.

Brown said they looked into this issue months ago.

“We informed the National Institutes of Health-Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and told them what we were doing. There were no animals that were adversely affected,” Brown said.

He explained how Woolite, although not a laboratory-grade soap, is one of the mildest soaps to use, and that the expired drugs were present, but never used on animals.

“The animal research we do on campus is critical for finding cures and therapies. We’ve got a team of dedicated scientists, animal care personnel, who care deeply and are highly respectful of all the animals that they take care of,” Brown said.

Watts, in his closing remarks, reassured that there will be continual efforts in place to increase safety for faculty and students, before turning it to Benoit.

“It takes an entire village, and we’re all working to try to make sure that we have a very safe campus for faculty and students,” Benoit said.

Edited by Diane Mwai, Ryan Michaels, & John H. Glenn.

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