July 23, 2020

Employee town hall: More of your questions answered

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In a virtual town hall July 13, President Ray Watts, Provost Pam Benoit and other senior leaders provided updates and answered questions on planning for the re-entry to campus for fall 2020 (watch the full video here).

Employees submitted nearly 200 questions and comments during the hour-long event. Many were answered in the town hall and these were included in the comprehensive wrap-up that the Reporter published this past week. Here are answers to additional questions that could not be answered during the event due to time constraints.

Scroll down to read the complete summary or use the links below to jump to specific topics


Antibody testing


Exposure Notification App

Workplace protections and other HR questions

Working from home

Child care

Cleaning and Facilities questions

PPE, compliance and statewide regulations

UAB Medicine questions

Parking and Transportation


Diversity and disparities

Student questions

Campus visitors


Is UAB pooling samples for COVID-19 testing? If so, how are we avoiding false negatives since pooling may dilute the viral DNA?

We have started pooling samples for the sentinel testing program following completion of thorough validation work. We are limiting the pool size to three in an effort to avoid false positives and we know that we can reliably detect when a single sample has as few as 350 viral copies per milliliter in the sample from which the pooled sample was created — which should address concerns about false negatives.

Antibody testing

Will the test done at UAB identify if someone had COVID and recovered?

No. The RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) platforms used at UAB for COVID-19 testing detect the presence of the viral genome in the patient sample being tested. Only antibody-based tests can detect prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Is there antibody testing? Can a staff member ask for antibody testing, especially if they are in a high-risk category?

UAB does have antibody testing available and our data indicate that this test is robust and reliable. However, we are currently not offering widespread antibody testing due to concerns about interpretation of the results. A positive antibody test indicates that the patient had prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But it does not necessarily indicate that neutralizing antibodies, which should prevent a future infection, are present, so a positive test does not indicate protection from re-infection. The science is still unclear regarding immunity and re-infection. UAB continues to closely evaluate antibody-based assays for the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the percent of false negatives at the UAB testing site?

The testing platforms being used at UAB are the most sensitive platforms available, including our test developed in-house. It is difficult to determine an exact percentage in the absence of paired testing, but the estimates for the assay we are currently using for sentinel testing are about 95% sensitivity, so we could miss five in 100 cases. However, since we are only screening asymptomatic people with sentinel testing, we do not truly know.

Could you please clarify about the chance of infection given a negative test at different levels of test sensitivities and specificities?

All four RT-PCR assays we use at UAB are highly specific and sensitive. If a nasopharyngeal swab is done correctly and virus is present at this location, our tests are able to detect extremely low amounts of virus.

The clinical sensitivity is very dependent on sample acquisition and is therefore difficult to accurately assess. It is also difficult to assess if a patient who initially tested negative already had the virus (initial false negative) or picked it up at a later point in time (initial true negative).

The initial false negative in a person who is indeed infected might be due to very low viral loads. This would happen if the person’s immune system is successfully fighting the infection. However, the infection could subsequently break through and cause overt disease.

Initial true negatives happen more readily in areas with high disease burden, which may explain some of the reports of low sensitivity (70%) from some institutions in these “hot zones.” If a test sample is obtained immediately following exposure, the person might test negative but develop an infection in the following days. A person may also be negative the day of testing but become exposed soon afterward. These types of infections might appear to have been missed by screening.

There is also significant variability in test sensitivity, with some of the platforms being used extensively in some institutions estimate to miss around 40% of infected individuals. It is clear that samples collected by trained medical staff are of higher quality than self-collected swabs. Nasal swabs are about 90% sensitive compared to nasopharyngeal swabs.

All this is to say that we don’t always know the exact situation, and thus estimating probabilities is difficult. However, given the high specificity of the assays used at UAB, a positive PCR result indicates extremely high confidence that SARS-CoV-2 RNA is present in the sample.

Is the student testing also random?

Students will be required to take a COVID-19 test to enter campus for the fall. After the required test, sentinel testing that is not required but encouraged will be by random selection. Both forms of UAB testing are using a self-administered nostril swab, not the more invasive nasopharyngeal swab.


On the employee Healthcheck, why isn’t there a option for “no” in reference to the question asking if you’ve been around someone with COVID-19? It says “not sure” or “yes.”

The reason that there is not a “no” option is because you really cannot be absolutely sure that you have not been around someone with COVID-19.

Are there plans to expand the symptoms in UAB Healthcheck to include the additional symptoms listed on the CDC's website?

The symptoms follow the CDC guidelines. Sometimes it takes a day or two to update Healthcheck.

The Healthcheck does not always send you an email to remind, or text. Why is that?

Initially, the system had some hiccups and we think it is more stable now. Ideally, you pin it to your home screen and you get in the habit of doing it every morning and then you do not need to rely on the reminder.

I responded to the email right away for Healthcheck and I haven't got that info anymore. Could you send it again?

You can access Healthcheck on the employee portal at my.uab.edu and through the UAB app, in addition to the link on the uab.edu/coronavirus site.

How can we confirm if our Healthcheck responses have been received? Several of us in our department have received the three-day reminder when we’ve filled it out every day.

If that happens, please send your information to healthcheck@uab.edu.

What is the difference between the Healthcheck and Helpbeatcovid19.org?

Healthcheck is the UAB-facing COVID-19 assessment tool and Helpbeatcovid19.org is the public-facing COVID-19 assessment tool. You can continue to participate in both, but you must participate in Healthcheck in order to be on campus. You can continue using helpbeatcovid19.org for the greater good, as that information could be used to help inform community sentinel testing. However, if you do not want to keep using it, then type STOP when you get your next text message.

If you are working from home and you do not continue taking the Healthcheck assessment, is that okay?

If you are not ever on campus, then you do not need to do Healthcheck. However, once you plan to come back to campus, even if for just one short period of time (say a half-day), you need to complete Healthcheck.

Exposure Notification App

Can I put the tracking app on my family's phones?

Yes. When it becomes available it will be available statewide.

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Workplace protections

If an employee catches COVID-19 while on the job, can they use workman's comp?

If an employee believes they have contracted COVID-19 as a result of a workplace exposure, the employee should complete an incident report (campus employees) or TrendTracker (hospital employees), in conjunction with Employee Health.  This information will be investigated by our third-party administrator.  If it is determined that a positive test was the result of workplace exposure and not community exposure, on-the-job injury benefits may apply. 

What if your position requires you to go out into the community in close proximity and you are not comfortable with this?

Please direct this question to an HR Consultant to discuss in more detail. Find your unit’s HR Consultant here.

What precautions and social-distancing measures will be available for those who have workspaces in open areas?

Each unit's operational plan should address issues like these specific to an area and promote safety protocols.

Why are staff being brought back before their director?

Please direct this question to an HR Consultant to discuss in more detail. Find your unit’s HR Consultant here.

What if you are concerned about how your unit is handling the reentry? 

Please direct this question to an HR Consultant to discuss in more detail. Find your unit’s HR Consultant here.

What if we have an exposure and need to self-isolate. Do we have to take benefits?

If an employee is directed to isolate/quarantine by UAB Employee Health, the employee should be compensated during the defined isolation/quarantine period. Employees must notify Employee Health if they are not tested onsite. Employees who fail to contact Employee Health may have to use benefit time during the isolation/quarantine period.

Will employees have access to flu shots this year, even if we are working remotely?

Decisions about fall flu shots have not been finalized.

Why are there not any benefits for irregular employees (e.g. retirement, bad weather days, raises)?

Irregular employees are defined as employees that may work an irregular schedule. Employees in this category may include temporary services positions, flexi-pool positions, adjunct faculty and eligible retirees. Due to the nature of the positions and irregular schedule, these employees do not meet the requirements for the UAB Benefits program. Depending on the number of hours worked annually, some employees may qualify for available health care coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act provisions.

Regarding the AWARE Program, who has access to completed AWARE request forms? Where are the forms retained? How many individuals have access to the information on the forms? What are the titles of the individuals who have access to the forms? When will individuals who completed the form hear back from the AWARE office?

Access to the accommodation request forms are part of the AWARE program and can be reviewed by central Human Resources.  The AWARE team maintains medical documentation for accommodations requests that are processed through the AWARE program. These documents are confidential and maintained according to HIPAA privacy.

In order to identify a reasonable accommodation for employees, the AWARE program will have general discussions regarding the employee's request and needs. However, to protect the privacy and personal health information of our employees, supervisors cannot access accommodation request forms or medical documentation received by the AWARE program. 

Accommodation requests are unique and specific to the individual employee. Any request for an accommodation as part of UAB’s re-entry process through the AWARE program will be reviewed and processed as quickly as possible. There has been an increased volume of requests as a result of the re-entry plan, and the AWARE program is reviewing accommodation requests as quickly as possible. On average, unless additional documentation is needed, an employee should expect to resolve their accommodations request in three to five business days.  If the employee has not received a response, please contact the AWARE Program directly at hraware@uab.edu.  

Will there be a contact person or directions forthcoming to receive a refund of the City of Birmingham occupational tax for those who have been working from home and live outside of the Birmingham city limits?

This matter is under review. Information will be shared once final determinations are vetted.

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Working from home

If an employee who can work from home effectively was asked to be back in the office, can work from home be requested?

On May 26, 2020, UAB began its phased re-entry plan for employees. Departments were instructed to evaluate operational needs and develop a plan for returning employees to campus, where needed.  There may be instances where remote work is supported based on the business needs of the department.  There may also be instances where, as a result of their disability or a high-risk factor as defined by the CDC, an employee needs a reasonable accommodation that will allow them to perform the essential functions of their position. In these instances, remote work may be an option. Employees should work with their supervisor to explore requests for continuation of temporary telecommuting.

At this point in our working model, are you still encouraging those who can work remotely to continue working remotely?

Yes. Employees should return to campus due to a business reason. Employees who can work effectively remotely will likely do so. Supervisors are responsible for monitoring each employee’s productivity, and they and unit leaders shall determine who continues to work remotely or in an on-campus environment.

If you are working from home and you do not continue taking the Healthcheck assessment, is that okay?

If you are not ever on campus, then you do not need to do Healthcheck. However, once you plan to come back to campus, even if for just one short period of time (say a half-day), you need to complete Healthcheck.

Child care

Can you please review information related to resources from the Childcare Taskforce?

The Childcare Taskforce developed the following to support faculty and staff who had childcare responsibilities during the summer:

  • a list of virtual and summer camp programs and operating childcare programs found on the Child Care Resources list;
  • guidance for faculty and staff about options and resources available to them; and
  • guidance for faculty and staff who are managing employees with childcare responsibilities, emphasizing the importance of flexibility. (These resources can be found on the COVID-19 Resources for UAB Employees page on the HR site.)

The taskforce recognizes that child care options and scenarios are in flux for many UAB families as we near the beginning of a new school year. The taskforce is working to update the list of programs, add adult care options and explore the possibility of creating additional UAB-specific resources. UAB leadership continues to stress the importance of flexibility and compassion during these unprecedented times. If you have ideas or suggestions for the taskforce, please email ewykle@uab.edu.

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Cleaning and Facilities questions

As we begin to return to campus, is UAB Facilities considering retrofitting HVAC units on campus buildings with UV-C technology, especially in older buildings? These types of technologies can be installed in HVAC ducts to prevent room to room transmission of COVID-19. The CDC is now indicating that COVID-19 is airborne and more transmissible than they originally thought, which makes this a concern.

The filtering used in our HVAC systems is already the highest quality that can be utilized. We are closely monitoring the most recent data and adapting our operations, based on the current guidance available (CDC; American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers; etc.).

At this time, the science is unclear on the efficacy of UV-C technology on COVID-19. We will continue to monitor guidance from ASHRAE.

If our building ventilation has been turned off, when will these be turned back on for return to work? Do we have to request this or is it automatic?

We have not shut off ventilation on any of the buildings on campus. Our team has reduced capacity on many buildings to lower costs, but it’s important to keep air flowing to keep the buildings operational. Our team is working with departments and building administrators to ensure we’re bringing buildings back to full operation in time for employees who will return. If you do have a need, we welcome you to submit a Work Order online.

How can departments be supplied with alcohol for cleaning surfaces?

UAB Facilities is working with UAB Financial Affairs to ensure departments can purchase the cleaning supplies they need.

What happens if we run out of cleaning supplies? How would we disinfect our offices? Would we work at home until we have wipes, sanitizer, etc.

In the unlikely event we run out of disinfectant, each department will make the determinization on their abilities to continue on-site operation.

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PPE, compliance and statewide regulations

Will the university provide support for the additional cost of PPE for the different schools?

The university is providing two cloth masks to all on-campus faculty, students and staff. We are also providing an initial kit to all on-campus or hybrid instructors in the fall semester, and we are providing hand sanitizer refills and disinfecting wipes throughout the semester.

If one ordered masks, hand sanitizer and office sanitizing supplies through Financial Affairs' special order form, will those items be delivered to units' individual offices, or will there be a central pickup location for these items?

For updates or to schedule pickup at 10th Street Warehouse — or if it is determined that delivery is necessary — please email pperequests@uab.edu.

Is there concern about taking vital PPE from the hospital?

The branded cloth masks being ordered for the campus are not the surgical or N-95 masks used in the hospital. Cloth masks are being ordered for the university campus and UAB Medicine.

We’ve received a lot of emails and instructions on reporting people who are non-compliant with masks. Is there a formal process for investigating these claims?

Anonymous reports should be submitted to 1-866-362-9476 so they can be properly investigated.

Are we required to use provided masks or can we use cloth masks?

Unless your job/role requires a specific kind of mask, most university employees can wear cloth masks to be compliant.

How is UAB lobbying for policies that better protect our Alabama communities?

UAB government relations representatives and medical experts have and will remain in contact with elected and public health officials to provide evidence-based guidance. 

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UAB Medicine

COVID-positive numbers in Jefferson County are going up, yet we are still allowing visitors to enter the hospital. This is added stress and risk. Should we continue to allow visitors?

The Visitor Restriction Guidance was updated on July 15 to reflect the most recent observations. The new guidance is available on ONE at oneuabmedicine.org/coronavirus. We stay in constant communication with infectious disease- and public health experts, as well as with hospital faculty and staff, to monitor the pandemic and environment in the hospital. We continually evaluate the visitation policy and its implementation and will update protocols as appropriate.

With COVID-19 cases on the increase and if hospital bed capacity becomes a concern, would operations in areas like surgery, radiology, and clinics be scaled back again?

There are many factors that play into this decision, and we are in constant communication with infectious disease- and public health experts, supply chain professionals and our leadership to make measured, safety- and data-driven decisions. It is our hope to maintain operations as much as possible. If we need to make adjustments, we will communicate changes as soon as possible through various means. All updates regarding COVID-related operations are available at oneuabmedicine.org/coronavirus.

Acute care nurses assigned to COVID units are now receiving a $6 incentive. Will this be back-paid to nurses who have already worked on COVID units before and after the salary decreases and suspension of retirement matching? Are ICU and ED nurses being incentivized similarly? Are providers who handle COVID patients also being incentivized?

The $6 incentive is effective from implementation in July. Salary reductions announced in May ended effective July 1, and employees will be reimbursed for the salary reductions between May and July 1.

Considering the protracted difficulties some are suffering after infection with COVID-19 and the unknowns of what a second infection might further do to their health, could health care workers at UAB who have already contracted COVID-19 and recovered have the option not to care for COVID-19 patients if they so choose?

Employees interested in working in different areas should contact Hospital Human Resources.

Any new job openings at UAB, Cooper Green and St. Vincent's as the Alliance is taking place?

Information and jobs are posted online: UABUAB MedicineCooper Greenand Ascension St. Vincent’s.

Will the hospitalist service be the only service handling COVID-positive patients?

Currently patients are being cared for in cohorted ICU and acute care units. We have a surge plan in place that will work closely with unit leadership prior to opening if more space is needed.

Is UAB lobbying for greater support for our hospital and the U.S. medical system at large on the federal level due to the financial strain from COVID-19?

Yes. We have received significant financial support and expect to receive more.

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Parking and Transportation

Is it possible to cancel your parking fees? Could you please clarify what "You will not retain your current parking assignment" means?

Monthly parking fees for faculty and staff will not be discounted or refunded due to the university’s current limited operations status. Faculty or staff who choose to exit the Parking and Transportation System may do so by completing the normal process for discontinuing their participation.

Parking on or near an urban campus is a necessary and expensive part of our core infrastructure. Most of our parking costs are fixed (i.e., real estate, pavement, lights, cameras, gates, card readers) and a small amount are variable (i.e., related to personnel, tags or other disposable supplies). Therefore, the university has substantial costs for parking assets regardless of traffic on campus. At UAB, parking rates are set below market standards and are thus heavily subsidized by the institution. Faculty, staff and students who choose to participate in our Parking and Transportation System pay a monthly fee for the right to park in designated areas on UAB’s campus.  If an individual chooses to stop paying for that privilege, they cease supporting this key infrastructure.  Therefore, they lose their status within the Parking and Transportation System and may be reassigned to different parking facilities if they choose to rejoin our parking system at a later date.

I have been asked about parking by multiple employees: Should they keep paying for parking? Will they be refunded for months where parking was not used? If they will be on campus 25-50-75% of their time can they get part-time parking? I would appreciate being about to direct them to a website for these questions.

See response to the question above. Monthly parking fees are based on the employee’s FTE status assigned by Human Resources.

I am worried as someone who is supposed to ride the Blue Blazer Express bus about the amount of time it will take for the buses to complete their routes considering only nine people will be allowed to ride. How will this be addressed?

Additional buses have been added to all routes to compensate for the limited passenger loads.

Why are people who have been paying for years to park in the Ninth Avenue Parking Deck still having to pay to park when the arms to the deck are raised and anyone else can park here for free? It has gotten to the point that it is an inconvenience to find a place to park because of all the people from hospital and other areas taking up spaces. It is not just employees from remote lots but anyone can have free parking except for the employees assigned to this lot. Not very fair.

During the COVID-19 state of emergency, a number of changes to our normal business operation have occurred. For a while, almost daily, we were faced with changing our plans. Allowing your fellow employees and UAB visitors who are assigned to perimeter lots and those who may not possess a permit at all was strategically done to provide a safer environment. To date, no employees who are assigned to the deck have been displaced. This is monitored very closely. As of this past week, we have started transitioning decks/lots back to pre-COVID conditions. The Ninth Avenue Parking Deck, along with others, will transition back to normal in the near future. We ask for everyone’s patience and understanding as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic collectively.

Is the UAB Blazer Express Safety Escort still running after 9 p.m.?


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Expense-reduction questions

What is UAB's position on early retirement as a cost-saving measure and to reduce the number of employees on campus?

The university is not considering an early retirement plan at this time.

During the hiring freeze, will we be able to hire 04 Irregular employees?

The current exemption process will remain in place until the hiring suspension is lifted. This applies to irregular employees. 

During the town hall, Mr. Bolton stated that no merit program would be happening for the "next" fiscal year. To clarify, the upcoming review period in this calendar year will allow for a merit increase?

There is no merit plan for FY21, Oct. 1, 2020-Sept. 30, 2021, due to the financial impact of the pandemic. Merit increases for FY20 were effective Oct. 1, 2019.

If you had a raise scheduled based on your position title that was put on hold, will that raise go into effect at any time?

Same answer as the question above for merit increases. All other compensation adjustments should follow the FY21 Compensation Guidelines. 

Will UAB reinstate the employer contributions to the 403(b) optional retirement plan? 

At this time, the employer match/contribution to voluntary 403(b) retirement plans remains suspended. A decision on the retirement contribution reductions will not be made until the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) and will be made in consultation with the UA System.

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Diversity and disparities

What are UAB's employment statistics based on race and gender as it relates to pay, number employed and number employed in administrative roles across the non-medical areas. Does representation reflect the student population?

Employment data is reviewed annually to identify and assess areas for focused attention and continuous improvement.  We recognize that in some areas we have more work to do to reach parity with our diverse student population. See information on UAB workforce data and student data in the latest edition of Facts and Figures.

How will UAB identify and correct pay disparities among employees of color in both faculty and non-faculty positions?

As a federal contractor, UAB is required to complete annual reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Those reports analyze various employment and salary actions that ensure UAB is compliant with federal laws. Realizing that many questions regarding promotion and salary decisions are multi-faceted, they are better addressed individually. If patterns of systemic issues arise, they are addressed.

Most of us have brains that work well with numbers. Science. Data. With that in mind, do we have data, as an organization, that shows where our strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to race and gender equality in regard to hiring, retention and promotion within the hospital and/or university?

Yes. Employment data is reviewed annually to identify and assess areas for focused attention and continuous improvement across the UAB enterprise. As a federal contractor, UAB reviews the rate minorities and women are employed, considering their availability in a relevant labor pool, through affirmative action plans. These plans, developed by an external firm, ensure that all qualified faculty, staff and applicants have an equal opportunity for advancement, recruitment and all other aspects of employment.

Can UAB do more about the racial issues going on in today’s society?

While we can do more to champion equality and will do so, we have a good foundation from which to build and can be proud to be part of the UAB community. UAB is one of only 16 colleges and universities in the nation identified as a Diversity Champion by INSIGHT Into Diversity for good reason. We work continually to promote our shared values of respect, accountability, diversity and inclusion. 

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Student questions

How can UAB administration expect all UAB students to act responsibly?

UAB will provide information and resources and hold students, faculty and staff accountable for adherence to safety protocols.

How will the university prepare for students' return in January? The decision to suspend on-campus instruction following Thanksgiving seems like a good one, but how would that impact students' return in January and a possible increase in COVID-19 cases?

Campus entry plans are being updated on a continual basis to stay current with health and safety standards. We will operate this same way in planning for January 2021 and will communicate updates as soon as they are available.

Is UAB preparing to provide more completely online courses for undergraduate education?

Updates to the catalogue are due Dec. 1. There could be more fully online courses added, but this is up to individual programs and instructors. Right now, we are operating within the current course catalogue.

How many total students (undergraduate and others) are expected on campus in August? How many will be living on campus?

We anticipate total enrollment for fall 2020 to be approximately 22,000 students. Housing expects to be at full occupancy for the fall semester.

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Campus visitors

Are external visitors allowed for research purposes? Training of small groups (4-5 people max)?

Yes, as long as the visiting trainer is symptom-free and that all appropriate safety measures are followed: face coverings, social distancing and proper hand hygiene.

Will we allow high-school and junior-college visitors to campus?

At this time, there are several ways prospective students can explore campus offerings, including taking a virtual campus tour, attending a virtual information session and connecting with an admission counselor. Visit uab.edu/students/choose/uab-virtual-visit to schedule a format and time that is best for you. We will continue offering these options to students until we are able to safely provide on-campus visit options to prospective students and their families.

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