UAB doctor worried about ‘October surprise’ with COVID-19 cases due to school being back open


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, said he’s concerned Alabama could possibly see a spike in COVID-19 cases next month.

Saag said he’s worried about K-12 students who are now back in the classroom.

“The concern is there could be transmission happening within K-12 schools that we don’t see. Those students typically do not have symptoms but they could bring it home to parents and parents could get sick and two, three weeks after they get infected and that’s when we might indirectly start seeing the consequences,” Saag said.

Saag said when college campuses opened up and students returned, we saw an increase in cases. Then campuses started administered sentinel testing, the random testing of a small population of students. UAB is doing sentinel testing and Saag is recommending K-12 schools do the same.

“My advice to superintendents is find a way to do sentinel testing with school system, and that’s not a ton of testing. It’s going to be a fair amount but it’s basically taking 2-3% population of students randomly assigned throughout your system and have them tested routinely every week. One time a week, 2-3% of population and watch to see if there’s an increase. If you see it, then you have to test more or retract from returning to school or go more virtual but making those decision with data, information is extremely difficult if not impossible,” he said.

Saag said there is no way to predict what October would look like but believes if schools can start sentinel testing, we can prevent the COVID-19 numbers from increasing.

He believes schools are doing the best they can, in a tough situation.

“It’s almost like a fingerprint. Every school system is different. All their situations are different and what I have seen is almost all of them have taken it seriously. It’s not like they’re blowing it off but based on different pressures, they are making decisions to return to full activities but the problem is there is no data on what is happening in their school so they are basically flying blind,” he said.


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