Selwyn Vickers 4 LRAs fall approaches and colleges and universities across the state work to determine the safest way to resume activities, UAB and the School of Medicine are playing a key role in developing plans and tools to help. In addition to serving on the executive committee of Governor Ivey’s Coronavirus Task Force, since April I have co-chaired a University of Alabama System task force working on plans for how to safely reopen campuses. The task force includes experts from across UAB Medicine, as well as senior leaders from UAB and other UAB schools, among others.

On June 29, Governor Ivey announced two programs that will provide robust COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring, as well as notification of exposure to COVID-19, initially to public institutions of higher education. The programs —Testing for Alabama and Stay Safe Together™ — will be implemented by a coalition led by the Alabama Department of Public Health and UAB. The platforms will support public institutions of higher education to enhance safety on campus during the pandemic, and may later support businesses and other entities.

The initiative, which is supported by $30 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) money, will also target underserved areas in the state and support the Alabama Department of Public Health in its testing of hot spots around Alabama.

The Testing for Alabama initiative will enable every college student attending a public four-year and two-year college to be tested prior to reentry to campus. UAB, in partnership with the University of Alabama System, will work with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to lead a coalition of entities including the University of South Alabama, HudsonAlpha, and Kailos Genetics to support this robust reentry testing initiative. Protocols for how testing will be administered are being developed. We anticipate the test will likely be either a swab in the nostril — though not the more invasive nasopharyngeal swab — or an oral saline gargle test that we currently have under development.

The Stay Safe Together Platform will promote safe reentry and ongoing COVID-19 monitoring. It includes an online, COVID-19 health check tool that allows individuals to assess their health and symptoms, as well as an exposure notification app backed by Google and Apple technology that can anonymously alert someone if they are at risk from having been in proximity to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The health check tool is already being used by on-campus personnel at UAB, while the exposure notification smartphone app is in development and is anticipated to be ready in time for the fall semester.

Given that we will be living with the coronavirus pandemic for the foreseeable future, I’m very proud of this partnership that is helping our state navigate the crisis as safely and effectively as possible. I'd especially like to recognize the efforts of leaders who have been instrumental in developing this reentry platform. For Testing for Alabama, they include Drs. Mike Saag, one of UAB's premier infectious diseases specialists; ADPH Director Scott Harris; School of Medicine Executive Vice Dean Anupam Agarwal; UAB Pathology Chair George Netto; and clinical pathologist Sixto Leal; as well as UAB Medicine Vice President of Clinical Operations Jordan DeMoss; School of Medicine Associate Dean for Strategic Planning and Administration Toni Leeth; School of Medicine Associate Dean for Administration and Finance Lakisha Mack; and Barbara Van Der Pol, PhD, MPH, associate professor of Medicine. For Stay Safe Together, they include Sue Feldman, RN, MEd, PhD, associate professor and director of Graduate Programs in Health Informatics in the UAB School of Health Professions (SOHP); Mohan Thirumalai, MS, MEng, PhD, director of Information and Communication Technology for the UAB/Lakeshore Foundation Research Collaborative in the SOHP; and UAB Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Curtis Carver, PhD. I am confident these tools and initiatives will mitigate disruptions and create environments where learning can continue in spite of the unique challenges we face.

A gift from our Medical Alumni Association (MAA) is helping keep our medical students’ training on track. In April, at the request of School of Medicine Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Craig Hoesley, M.D., the MAA board approved a gift from their Medical Student Assistance Fund to pay for each rising fourth-year medical student to have access to a National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) Step 2 practice exam. The practice exams will help keep students on course for graduation and entry into residency, despite the disruption in learning activities caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The generous donation helped our students prepare for the Step 2 Clinical Knowledge exam (this year’s Step 2 Clinical Skills exam was canceled). These practice exams were critical in helping our Medical Education team ascertain students’ readiness and enabling them to intervene when necessary to ensure students’ success. I am immensely grateful for the steadfast and enthusiastic support the MAA consistently shows our school and our students.

I’m also pleased to share that The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees appointed Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, the inaugural holder of the Edward E. Partridge, M.D., Endowed Chair for Cancer Disparity Research at its June 4 meeting. Dr. Fouad is the senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the School of Medicine, director of the Division of Preventive Medicine, and founding director of the UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center. Dr. Fouad’s vision and leadership has helped establish the validity of health disparities research at UAB and nationally, especially regarding cancer disparities in vulnerable populations. It is this type of exceptional leadership that led to her 2017 induction into the National Academy of Medicine. I hope you will join me in congratulating her for this well-deserved honor.

As always, thanks to all our alumni for all you are doing to help your communities stay safe and well during these unprecedented times.

Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS
Senior Vice President for Medicine
Dean, UAB School of Medicine
James C. Lee Jr. Endowed Chair
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Chair, The University of Alabama Health Services Foundation Board