The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is giving updated guidance on COVID-19 protocols in light of recent variants, with lighter restrictions on UAB campuses than before.

Since UAB has previously announced that it would be treating the virus with “traditional cold/flu precautions,” the protocol for the school is now more lax than in previous years.

According to Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases in UAB’s Heersink School of Medicine, cases are surging, and the new Omicron BA.5 variant is the “most infectious” they have seen to date.

“It seems like cases are coming at us thick and fast,” Marrazzo said. "The evolving variants continue to adapt to the vaccines and the protection that the vaccines have been so good at giving us. The vaccines that are currently available are still active against the B.A5 and B.A4 variants of Omicron, but they aren’t protecting against infection or acquisition of the virus as well as they did in previous strains. They are still working to protect against severe disease.”

Marrazzo also said she expects a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is going to recommend “updated” vaccines that include the original COVID-19 strain combined with a component designed specifically for B.A4 and B.A5.   

Despite the surge, UAB officials are confident the schools are not significant contributors to community spread.

David Kimberlin, M.D., co-director of UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, says that school is not a major driver of community spread. However, he does encourage schools to be mask-friendly for those who choose to wear them.

“We need to recognize that, while schools are not the epicenter of community transmission, what happens in the community can impact schools,” Kimberlin said.

He further stated that pediatric vaccination numbers are not encouraging as the school year begins.

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