University of Alabama faculty reportedly told to stay quiet about COVID-19 infections among students

The faculty at the University of Alabama was ordered not to divulge information about the coronavirus

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (Photo: University of Alabama)

To some, the University of Alabama has a proud history. To others, it has a dark history exemplified by the struggle of Autherine Lucy, the first Black person to attend the school.

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Now the school has another smear against its reputation. As reported by The Daily Beast, the university’s administration reportedly told faculty not to reveal any coronavirus numbers to its students.

This directive was in spite of the fact that over 500 students, staff, and faculty tested positive for the virus as the Tuscaloosa campus began in-person instruction last week.

University of Alabama
(Credit: University of Alabama)

The Daily Beast obtained emails addressed to the politics department and other academic departments that warned faculty not to divulge any positive COVID-19 cases among students, whether in person or social media accounts, stating that it could constitute a HIPAA violation. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was put in place to ensure the privacy of patient health information.

Alabama Provost James Dalton emailed a follow-up to faculty to clarify the rules.

“If the established rules for masks and physical distancing are followed in the classroom, then the risk of transmission from the positive student is minimal, and it is not necessary to inform the rest of the class they may have been in the same room as a positive classmate,” his email says. “For privacy reasons, the instructor should not announce to the class that a student in the class tested positive, even anonymously.”

Students who test positive on or off-campus are moved to so-called ‘quarantine dorms’ set up by the university but adherence to quarantine is on ‘the honor system.’

If a student receives a positive COVID-19 test outside of the school, they are also on the honor system as there is no way to track results unless students are tested on campus.

The Daily Beast says that U of Alabama students have reported that residents of those dorms flout quarantine rules with little action taken against them. Though they are supposed to be monitored by campus security and resident advisors, on a campus of more than 38,000 students its unrealistic to believe that the quarantine dorm could be monitored more thoroughly.

“A lot of my colleagues and people I’ve talked to, they’re terrified,” American studies professor Michael Innis-Jimenez told The Daily Beast.

He elected to teach remotely this semester due to the risks of COVID-19 transmission.

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“Every statement at least for the last month has been about this plan, they’ve got this plan,” he said, adding later: “It makes it feel like a lot of this is for show, especially when they don’t want you to confirm it’s not working.”

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