The University of Alabama System Wednesday shared the thoughts of public health experts who said campuses considering closing over COVID-19 concerns should reconsider.

In a press release distributed Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the System cited Mike Saag, M.D., professor of medicine in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases, who believes it is safer for students to stay on campus than go back to their homes across the country and world.

“There is a strong feeling among public health and infectious disease experts that it is safer to keep students on a college campus where there is COVID-19 spread rather than closing campus and sending students home en masse,” Saag said. “The risk in closing a college campus and forcing thousands of students home at once is that the virus then has the opportunity to spread more widely to other geographic locations and possibly more vulnerable populations."

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UAB Senior Vice President for Medicine and School of Medicine Dean Selwyn Vickers echoed those sentiments and said universities are uniquely qualified to contain COVID cases on campus -- but only if students, faculty and staff follow guidelines.

UA can provide affordable testing, free face coverings, isolation and quarantine spaces and other prevention and treatment resources unavailable to the common man.

“Universities have leveraged medical expertise, resources and technology to implement extensive safety measures and reduce risk on campus, and plans are in place to manage the virus on campus,” Vickers said. “Student behavior and compliance are some of the fundamental components of managing the outbreak.”

He said students are better served in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville than in other areas of the country and world where resources may be less readily available.

“From a public health perspective, you want to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus,” Vickers said. “If resources are available on campus to manage an outbreak and keep it from spreading to other locations and people that may not be experiencing spread, that should be the goal.”

 

Finis St. John, the Chancellor of the UA System, said in April that the men and women who work in the System would make its campuses the safest in the world for students.

“We are fortunate that the scientists, doctors and staff at UAB are on the leading edge of efforts to resolve this health crisis," St. John said. "While it remains uncertain when students, faculty and staff will resume normal activities, no one is better positioned to develop a plan for the health and safety of our campuses than these world-class experts.”