COVID-19 Testing and Prevention in Alabama's K-12 Schools program wraps up with 925,000 tests, 814 schools enrolled and more than 24,000 student participants

Launched during the Delta surge, the UAB-led program aimed to keep Alabama’s school open for in-person instruction through free and voluntary services such as asymptomatic testing and HEPA filters.
Written by: Maria White
Media contact: Hannah Echols

1205642159962621.LLf3eWC2ajZKTb3oh5x0 height640The COVID-19 K-12 Testing and Prevention program, which was the largest single funded grant in the history of the UAB School of Public Health at $142 million, officially wrapped up in July of 2023.
Photography: Bruce Southerland
In 2021, the University of Alabama at Birmingham in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health and Alabama State Department of Education launched COVID-19 Testing and Prevention in Alabama's K-12 Schools program. The program, which was the largest single funded grant in the history of the UAB School of Public Health at $142 million, officially wrapped up in July of 2023.

The program was launched as the Delta variant surged in Alabama and across the country. Through asymptomatic testing, the program aimed to help schools reopen and remain open for in-person instruction. At its conclusion, the UAB team administered and/or distributed more than 925,000 on-site PCR and over-the-counter rapid antigen COVID tests.

“Throughout the program, we wanted the faculty and staff of our K-12 schools and, most importantly, Alabama’s parents to know that we were there to help keep their school communities healthy and students in the classroom, where we know learning is best achieved,” said Martha Wingate, DrPH, chair of the UAB Department of Health Policy and Organization and principal investigator of the program.

Through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-led initiative ELC Reopening Schools offered funding and support to every state for COVID-19 screening, testing and other mitigation activities in K-12 schools. The UAB team worked with schools and testing companies to create individualized plans that fit with each school environment. The services were free and voluntary, and participants could opt out at any time.

Program results included:

  • 925,000+ tests administered or distributed
  • 814 schools
  • 139 school districts
  • 24,000+ student participants
  • 3,600+ staff participants
  • 3,425 on-site positive results detected

Expanding the program

The program was expanded in the summer of 2022 when on-site testing was offered to summer camps, vacation Bible schools and early learning centers. As the pandemic persisted into the fall, the ELC Reopening Schools initiative extended the programs for a second year. The UAB team began offering additional services, including:

  • HEPA air-purification systems
  • Rapid over-the-counter COVID-19 tests
  • Funding for on-site testing liaisons
  • Optional student rewards cards
  • Supplemental funding for participating schools

1205642159962619.lUVwNhxXoPfPD20Imr6e height640The bulk orders of OTC rapid test kits were favorable for use ahead of larger gatherings, including dances, sporting events and assemblies. HEPA air-purification systems were available to place in high-traffic areas in schools such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, nurses’ offices and larger classrooms. 

Beyond COVID-19

The HEPA air-purifier service became particularly helpful during the months-long landfill fire in St. Clair County that began in late 2022. In January 2023, UAB’s team reacted by shifting from offering 10 HEPA units per school to offering HEPA units for every single classroom within a 10-mile radius of the fire. The program team was met with gratitude from recipients near the town of Moody and received overwhelmingly positive reactions from school leadership, teachers and families across Alabama. A total of 717 Alabama schools opted to receive HEPA filtration systems, and the team distributed 24,044 air purifiers and 76,642 filters.  

“I want to congratulate Dr. Wingate and her team for the incredible service they have provided both to support our children’s learning environments and to protect the public’s health,” said Paul Erwin, M.D., DrPH, dean of the UAB School of Public Health. “Carrying out a program of this magnitude was akin to going from sipping out of a paper cup to drinking from a fire hose. That we were able to partner with ADPH and ALSDE to do this for the whole state reinforces the central role UAB can play for the good of all Alabamians.”