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As cases mount, Birmingham schools look for ways to loosen COVID-19’s ‘grip’

Students will hear from some of the most trusted local and national medical leaders this week to answer any questions they or parents may have. (FILE)

By Haley Wilson

The Birmingham Times

COVID-19 continues to hold a grip on the Birmingham metro area and it’s being felt across the city schools system, Superintendent Dr. Mark Sullivan said on Monday during a virtual press conference.

The superintendent announced a partnership with several entities to provide COVID-19 education, vaccinations and testing throughout the school district starting this week to deal with the rising COVID-19 cases.

Saying “we must do more together,” Sullivan pointed out that just last week, almost 200 BCS students and 31 employees tested positive for COVID 19 and another 500 were excluded from class or work because they were exposed.

Also, 18 George Washington Carver High School students tested positive and four were excluded from class because of COVID-19 exposure while the Wenonah-Center Point football season opener was cancelled because of COVID-19.

To prevent scenarios like these from continuing, BCS announced the next steps to continue in-person learning with a group of community partners. Those include:

  • Alabama Regional Medical Services
  • Cahaba Medical Care
  • Mid Plus Partners
  • UAB Office of Minority Health
  • UAB Public Health Office
  • Black Nurses Association of Birmingham
  • The Greater Birmingham Ministries
  • The Jefferson County Health Department
  • Birmingham Housing Authority

The goal is to encourage vaccinations and educate students, parents, and the community about the on-going pandemic, say school officials.

“We know that our community is not just limited to our students and our employees that get into these school’s everyday…our community is much more larger than that,” said Sullivan.

While many students have tested positive and excluded from class that has not been the case among teachers. That’s because a large percentage of the faculty has been vaccinated, said Sullivan.

“Science tells us that vaccines are safe and effective in battling COVID-19,” he said. “. . . we must continue to encourage our students and their families to get vaccinated so students can have in-person learning in a safe and healthy environment.”

BCS and its partners will collaborate on several steps to loosen the grip of COVID -19, it was announced. Those include:

  • On Wednesday, August 25 at 1 P.M., “COVID Conversations”, a broadcast for parents, will be streamed at bhamcityschools.org on Wednesday, August 25 at 1 P.M., to educate and spread awareness on the different subjects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The broadcast will include a panel of medical experts who will provide tips for keeping safe and debunking the myths around the vaccine. Following on August 26th, students will also be able to participate in the discussion.

Another session will be held with school students participating in a discussion with medical professionals at 10 a.m. Thursday, August 26. This will be broadcast on the district’s Livestream platform.

“Many of our students have perceptions about vaccines and COVID-19 …and some of those perceptions are being crafted by what they read and see on social media,” said Sullivan. “Some of those things are actually, factually, not accurate… so we’re going to have some of the most trusted local and national medical leaders who will provide information on COVID-19 and answer any questions that parents and students may have.”

  • On Saturday, August 28, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., basketball Hall of Famer and Alabama native, Charles Barkley will headline a COVID vaccination site at Legion Field. The event is sponsored by The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center and will include free drive-thru and walk-up vaccinations, local food trucks and t-shirts to the first 300 people vaccinated.

“We are hoping to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” said Tiffany Osborne, Director of UAB’s Community Engagement for the Minority Health and Disparities Research Center, which will help sponsor the event. “We’re also so excited to be able to partner with Charles Barkley. He has been a friend to us for many years [and has been] supporting our efforts to be able to address health disparities in underserved communities.”

“We want all of our eligible students to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated,” Sullivan said. “Already we have had to cancel a football game because of the impact of COVID-19. Hundreds of students have been excluded from class for several days because they were exposed to COVID-19 and were not vaccinated. We don’t want to see our children or employees sick or hospitalized when there is an option for avoiding some of that pain and discomfort.”

Although the event is set to end at 1 p.m., Osborne said any still in line at that time will receive their vaccines.

  • Starting in September, BCS will also offer free COVID-19 pop up clinics at K-8 schools, middle schools, and high schools.

“It really helps to have a better understanding of what’s going on at the individual school levels to make sure that there’s nothing brewing if you will,” said Dr. Martha Wingate, chair of UAB’s Department of Health Care Organization.  “So [we’re] just keeping an eye on what’s going on before the children can be vaccinated… if they’re not eligible, but also just again to keep an eye on what’s going on because we are seeing children that are a younger group that’s getting sicker from COVID right now so the importance of this partnership… I can’t say enough…is strong.”

A list of the participating schools and the schedules for testing will be announced soon.