Shot dead on The Strip

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After the shooting death of nineteen year old Schuyler Bradley, included in the account by Emily Enfinger in the Tuscaloosa News, was: “‘There is no reason to believe that there is any ongoing threat to the Strip or University area as a result of this incident,’ said Violent Crimes Unit Capt. Jack Kennedy.”

The circumstances behind the tragic death of Bradley haven’t been published as yet in the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White, but Jeremy Hogan‘s article in The Bloomingtonian reported: “Bradley was visiting friends in Tuscaloosa to watch Saturday’s football game between Alabama and Georgia.”

In the Indiana Daily Student, Avraham Forrest gave an account of a Sunday Vigil that took place in Bloomington, Indiana, for the Indiana University student:

A vigil for late IU student Schuyler Bradley was held in Dunn Meadow on Sunday night. Bradley was shot early Friday morning in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and died later that day.

“This is the first place besides my home that I’ve been since he’s passed, and honestly I didn’t want to come,” Bradley’s mother Daphne Groff said “But I was sort of excited because I knew people were going to be here but I didn’t think it was going to be this many people.”

Much of Bradley’s family attended the event, mourning the late IU student along with other students. Ghiche Bradley, Schuyler’s older brother, said his late sibling was a good person and that people noticed it. He said his brother was a hard worker and loved his family. 

“He loves hard,” Ghiche said. “He loves his friends, loves his family.”

Shootings have occurred on University Boulevard in the past. The Franklin Stove Blog‘s “Saturday Nights in T-Town” deals with the fighting by inebriated youth that has occurred.

In the case of nineteen year old Schuyler Bradley, the suspected shooter Zachary Profozich was a twenty-two year old man.

Stephen Dethrage reported in the Tuscaloosa Thread that the “22-year-old accused of fatally shooting a man near the Tuscaloosa Strip early Friday morning told several people that he believed his 19-year-old victim was reaching for a gun, according to new court documents filed this week.”

It has not been reported whether the use of alcohol was a factor in the death of Bradley but, considering the fact that the shooting occurred near the campus bars on the Strip, it could well be assumed that drinking was involved in the argument that precipitated the shooting.

Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox, during a Pre-Council meeting on October 20, commented on the Tuscaloosa Police Department‘s experience during the Georgia/Alabama football weekend. He said, “We continue to see a disturbing number of young people, 21 and younger, being served and that is not going to be tolerated. we’ve got to insure that only 21 year-olds and older, that can be legally served, are being served, because we’ve had some very disturbing incidences that we feel that we’ve had more than in the past.”

Maddox has rarely, if at all, mentioned under-aged drinkers being served at bars during his Pre-Council briefings. Of course, the shooting of Bradley may not have been one of the “disturbing incidences” that provoked his comment.

The crackdown on under-aged drinking that the Maddox is seeking, which will involve additional training of bar personnel in recognizing fake IDs, may result in less risky behavior by minors.

Whether alcohol was involved in the death of Schuyler Bradley or not, other disturbing incidences that occurred on a football weekend may help prevent another such shooting in T-Town.

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Trick or Treat in T-Town in the time of Covid

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Strange days have found Tuscaloosa. On its Facebook page the City of Tuscaloosa has a cover photo of a Halloween pumpkin carved with the letters “TUSCABOOSA.” Perhaps the scariest thing this Halloween in T-Town is the recent uptick in COVID-19 positives at the University of Alabama.

On September 24, 2020, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox’s executive order, limiting occupancy at bars, was loosened. On September 28th, the Alabama Beverage Control‘s operating hours for bars were extended past 11pm. By October 9th there were signs of increased COVID 19 infections at the University of Alabama, as reported by AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande.

The first University of Alabama home football game was played on October 3rd, 2020, in front of a greatly reduced number of 20,000 fans. The crowds that lined up to get into campus bars before and after the game did not all consist of ticket holders for the game played in Bryant-Denny Stadium. People were not wearing masks or socially distancing in and outside of the stadium. The impact of the first home game on spreading the Coronavirus has yet to be seen.

Slate‘s Molly Olmstead wrote about the importance of football at the University of Alabama. in her article “Pandemic Life at the Most Football-Mad College in America,” she observed:

To be a college student at Alabama this fall is to be, as the New York Times put it, a participant in a “high-stakes experiment.”

Parties are thought to be a major source of campus outbreaks, and the University of Alabama is the No. 1 party school in the nation. The state itself has a fairly high infection rate, which means students visiting home might return to campus with COVID. And football season has only just begun.

Students and faculty told me that as long as there was football and as long as there were students on campus, it was naive to expect better numbers. College football is more popular here than anywhere else in America, and fans traveled from all over the state to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first home game last weekend. According to reports from the game, roughly half of the students who attended took their masks off. And many who couldn’t land tickets headed to bars and restaurants.

Generations of Alabamians are drawn to the university because they’ve grown up watching Crimson Tide football on television. If you ask out-of-state and sometimes even international students why they chose to attend the 65th-ranked public school in America, many will tell you it’s because it seemed like a quintessentially Southern experience, with football and Greek life and the partying that comes with it. There are Alabamians who live their lives around football season, Alabamians for whom it is their one big annual expense.

“Football matters; it’s a huge factor in peoples’ lives,” said Christopher Lynn, an anthropology professor at the school. “Faculty are cynical about football, but they don’t understand how many students come to Alabama because they don’t know where they want to go to college, but they know it’s fun.”

One University of Alabama tradition that is not likely to be carried out in the same way, if at all, in 2020 is Trick-or-Treat on Sorority Row. Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan did an article last year about the event, where children in the community played games with and were given candy by sorority members from the Alabama Panhellenic Association, National Pan-Hellenic Council and the United Greek Council.

Throughout the country, with the Capstone‘s Greeks being no exception, sororities and fraternities have had high COVID-19 positives. CNN‘s Leah Asmelash explained it in this way:

Across the country, entire sorority and fraternity houses have been put on lockdown following outbreaks of the virus, as partying and social gathering are baked into the very essence of that culture.

At the University of Washington, 15 of the 45 houses on Greek Row have cases of Covid-19, as according to NPR’s Eilis O’Neill.

A second, even larger coronavirus outbreak on the University of Washington’s Greek Row has onlookers worried that those cases could lead to infections in the broader community. And it’s raised questions about whether the school can control the spread of Covid.

O’Neill reported that social distancing has been difficult to maintain.

Right now, students are hearing they should stay six feet from everyone, including intimate partners. A Harvard epidemiologist says that’s not realistic, and it would be easier to control the spread if the school gave the students more reasonable guidelines.

The Danse Macabre was characterized by Bethany C. Gotschall, in her Atlas Obscura article “A Brief History of the ‘Danse Macabre’,” as “a medieval allegory about the inevitability of death.” Survivors of the bubonic plague and the Hundred Year’s War staged elaborate All Souls’ Day parades. Gotschall wrote that “the macabre imagery” of the parades may have been a precursor to the Halloween holiday, with its “connections between life and death.” The “skeletons, skulls, and corpses” associated with Halloween were “reminiscent of those grim medieval dancers.”

Over 200,000 deaths, in the United States alone, have resulted from today’s version of the plague. Although arguably more benign than the Black Death, COVID-19 has ravaged the nation. According to TIME‘s Jeffrey Kluger, over 400,000 deaths will have been amassed by year’s end.

With its roots in medieval history, this year’s Halloween in T-Town may only be a sideshow to the community’s struggle with the ongoing horror of a pandemic that affects both young and old.

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Saturday Nights in T-Town

Image that was posted on Facebook taken on Saturday October 3, 2020, after the Texas A&M football game, on The Strip

Well they’re packed pretty tight in here tonight.

Don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in

Saturday, Saturday, Saturday
Saturday, Saturday, Saturday
Saturday, Saturday,
Saturday night’s alright

The lyrics to Elton John‘s song “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” describe what has often been a typical Saturday night in T-Town on football game days. Of course, things in 2020 are a little different than conditions in previous years. Due to the Coronavirus epidemic, attendance at Bryant-Denny Stadium has been cut to only about 20% of its typical 100,000 fans. The result is that smaller crowds have lined up on Saturday night near campus bars. Social distancing or mask wearing for most of the bar patrons has not been observed.

The Alabama Beverage Control Board had only just decided to lift restrictions on operating hours for bars on September 28th, 2020. The 11pm cutoff had been removed. AP reported, “Originally intended to keep down crowds and encourage social distancing, the rule also reduced revenues and limited tips for servers. ABC Administrator Mac Gipson said the restriction on operating hours was a ‘business killer’ for bars.”

When such late hours of operation exist, combined with the presence of inebriated youth (many of whom are underaged drinkers), bar fights seem to be inevitable. Such a pattern has existed in T-Town for many years. During one National Championship game an underaged drinker who had been in a fight at Innisfree Irish Pub was pursued by Tuscaloosa Police officers, who drug him off the roof of a duplex that was two blocks away. Alabama football players have been involved in fights and even shot at bars, as detailed in a ESPN story. The business license of the High Tide bar was revoked after a shooting had occured on a Tuesday night, as WBRC‘s Joshua Gauntt reported. There are also endless accounts of late night and early morning marauding drunks in Tuscaloosa’s Historical District as Kelly Fitts‘s 2014 op-ed referred to.

CBS/42‘s Tim Reid wrote about how the city of Tuscaloosa planned to keep an eye on bar crowds during the city’s first Alabama football game. He quoted Tuscaloosa Council member Lee Busby‘s admonition: “Get ready to do without your license because we are going to suspend them on the second offense.”

Reid wrote that Innisfree Irish Pub‘s Manager Nick Snead said that all of his staff would wear face masks and observe the 50% occupancy limits. Snead said, “We just want a level playing ground, we want every bar around town to be the same. If you’re not operating at 50% then you should get in trouble.  You know, just because one bar is not doing good why should we all be punished.”

There were large crowds observed after Saturday’s football game at all of the bars near campus. Tuscaloosa Council Member Lee Busby said that there were less than a dozen citations to bars for overcrowding, according to 6/WBRC‘s Lauren Jackson. She reported that “only one bar was temporarily shut down for the night due to a second strike for over capacity.”

The Tuscaloosa Police Department has arrest records that include the ages of those involved in any altercation.

When Oxford, Mississippi cracked down on under-aged drinkers, Chaning Green in the Daily Journal reported on its Chief of Police’s testimony during a discussion of a proposed ordinance.

Oxford Police Chief Joey East stood before the board to answer questions and provide additional insight to the process. He talked about how there have been over 100 charges, not arrested but charges, that have happened since the students returned. The majority of which happened on the Square, in this Downtown District.

There is a 19-year-old college student currently in the ICU being treated for severe alcohol poisoning, after spending an evening binge drinking and being served in bars on the Square.

Two young women were recently sexually assaulted in two businesses on the Square. One of the businesses didn’t have security cameras and the other one’s cameras were broken.

East said he and the rest of his department are tired of running into these issues over and over again and that it’s past time something was done about it.

If T-Town ever get serious about enforcing its codes on underaged drinking, perhaps there will be similar testimony presented before its Council?

The city’s occupancy restrictions were established, because of the impossibility of actually enforcing “social distancing.” In many areas of the country bars are closed or are restricted to take-out service. Tuscaloosa actually has rules that are less restrictive currently than those in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOLA.com‘s Jessica Williams wrote that bars in the Crescent City are only permitted to have takeout service in go-cups. Indoor occupancy is limited to no more than 50 people. Tuscaloosa allows as any as 150.

On September 26th, 2020, images posted on social media of a crowd at Rhythm and Brews showed crowds who were not socially distancing or wearing masks, Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox said that several bars had exceeded their occupancy limits and said that there would be more enforcement. Only a couple of establishments reportedly received citations as a consequence.

A 2015 report in SB Nation by Steven Godfrey and Matt Brown said that “The Tuscaloosa Police Department spent $544,459.50 on overtime pay to police all seven Alabama home games in 2014.” Some of the expense, which should be far greater in 2020, doubtlessly is related to the activities on football weekends at campus bars.

It is regrettable that under the current situation, where more enforcement than ever is called for, that the city seems to feel helpless to find a way to cope with the problems associated with bars. If occupancy limits are the only tool in its arsenal, then perhaps the city should further reduce the number of people allowed into bars? It could even follow the example of New Orleans and allow no more than fifty people in bars.

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Pygmies expose students in T-Town?

Blurred version of original Tweet

A Tweet by the band Velcro Pygmies was widely circulated in social media in T-Town. Included in the Tweet was, “You’re being reckless. You’re going to get everyone killed.” That was a sentiment shared by many of the people who shared the Tweet.

According to Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News the city of Tuscaloosa had only just loosened up the rules for Tuscaloosa bars. “As college football season approaches and local hospitals are not yet overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, Tuscaloosa city leaders are taking steps to allow more business at bars and restaurants.”

Three days later, Tuscaloosa’s mayor Walt Maddox expressed concern over crowded bars. Al.com‘s Mike Cason‘s article “Mayor Walt Maddox says tighter enforcement needed for crowded Tuscaloosa bars” Cason wrote: “In August, Maddox shut down Tuscaloosa bars for two weeks to slow an increase in the spread of the virus on the University of Alabama campus. He announced that decision after discussions with UA officials.” He included Maddox‘s Tweet on Friday, September 26th which said that several bars had exceeded their occupancy limits and the city would have a “heavier presence tonight.” He identified Rhythm & Brews, where the Velcro Pygmies had played, as one of the bars that the city had received complaints about.

Tuscaloosa‘s approach to maintaining social distancing has been based on occupancy limits. Currently as many as 150 people can gather in bars, as the “Good News & Bad News” FSB recently explained.

It is remarkable how at Harvard University, rules for indoor events on campus limit the number to 25 people, stipulating “for indoor gatherings, participants should be limited to 25 and must also have no more than 8 people per 1000 sq feet accessible space; overall, we discourage any indoor gatherings at this time.” These regulations are based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) guidance. According to an article by the United State Fire Administration, the radius of the 6 feet (which is recommended by the CDC for social distancing) is equal to approximately 113 square feet per person.

Tuscaloosa‘s regulations based on occupancy limits obviously had no effect on social distancing at the Velcro Pygmie‘s performance at Rhythm and Brews. But such regulations, if based on the state’s order, are likely to be inadequate for restaurants as well. The state’s “Safer At Homeorder states that “Insofar as such establishments offer on-premises consumption of food or drink, they shall limit the party size at tables to no more than eight persons and maintain at least six feet of separation between people seated at different tables, booths, chairs, or stools.” Because of anticipated difficulty in enforcing the required social distancing, the city established occupancy limits.

As soon as Tuscaloosa relaxed its rules on bars, there was a great deal of jubilation expressed at bars. In CBS/42 Tim Reid‘s article “Tuscaloosa bars hope to cash in on Alabama’s first game of the season,” it was reported:

Nick Snead is the manager at Innisfree Irish Pub. He admits many bars, including his, have struggled since March because of COVID-19. He is hoping he and his staff will have a busy day Saturday with lots of customers ready to watch college football.

“We know it’s not going to be what it should be during a normal season but, anything is better than nothing at this point. We get to see the kids, the kids get to enjoy football and that’s why we are here for the students and the city of Tuscaloosa,” Snead said. “We are here and open for them to have a place to come watch the game.”

In many areas of the country, such as Michigan and Florida, there has been much concern over the Coronavirus being spread by students. Nisa Khan of the Detroit Free Press wrote about the number of coronavirus cases at Michigan colleges creating spikes in Michigan counties. In Florida the Sun Sentinel‘s Cindy Krischer Goodman and Lois K Solomon wrote, “In Florida, the number of young people with coronavirus is soaring, driven by college towns where super-spreader students want to live normal lives and show no fear of getting sick.”

In Florida, the Herald Tribune‘s John Kennedy reported that Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis had dismissed the role of students and parties in spreading Coronavirus. He wrote:

On Thursday, DeSantis condemned as “draconian” the decision by Florida State University to suspend students who test positive for the virus but fail to isolate, or who attend or host large gatherings on or off campus. The policy was promoted by FSU President John Thrasher, a former Republican lawmaker and one-time head of the state Republican Party.

DeSantis, however, dismissed the impact of parties in spreading the virus, saying, “That’s what college kids do.”

Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande wrote about how Bryant-Denny Stadium would only allow “under 20,000 fans as part of the social distancing requirements.” Even though tail gating has been prohibited on campus, there is no way to predict the number of football fans who will converge on T-Town for the Alabama-Texas A&M game. Those attending the game will probably socially distance and wear masks before entering the stadium. But during and after the game on October 3rd, it is questionable if they will. Just how many off-campus house parties, before and after the game, will take place is also unknown.

In its Tweet, the Velcro Pygmies band documented how people in bars can ignore rules on social distancing. It could reasonably be asked if the first home game for the Crimson Tide in T-Town will turn out to be a super-spreader event?

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Just what is it about Covid & Greeks?

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Restrictions on Greek affiliated students at the University of Alabama were put into place almost as soon as the school reopened. An August 21st article by AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande reported that, just three days into the semester, Greek houses were put on notice.

Throughout the country, extraordinary measures regarding Greek life have been taken. Cassidy Johncox wrote that in East Lansing residents of 39 large houses were ordered to self-quarantine after a Covid outbreak. 25 of them were fraternity and sorority houses.

As reported by CNN‘s Taylor Romine and Allen Kim, Michigan State was just one of many universities across the nation that have reported outbreaks, many of which involved Greeks on campus.

CNN‘s Leah Asmelash wrote about the risks that colleges took in reopening:

Some campuses have given guidance on creating social pods. Others have created large social outdoor spaces, as an alternative to indoor gatherings, thus drawing ‘students away from higher risk settings…’

This kind of risk-aversion already happens on college campuses — just look at underage drinking. Colleges know that students will inevitably drink before they’re legally allowed to do so, and in response have provided safer alternatives for social events that don’t involve alcohol…

Across the country, entire sorority and fraternity houses have been put on lockdown following outbreaks of the virus, as partying and social gathering are baked into the very essence of that culture.

Which begs the question: Were colleges ever going to crack down on Greek Life? No one has stopped issues — including sexual violence, hazing and racism — that have plagued those groups for years.

A huge part of it is money, as many big donors are insistent Greek Life continue. Attempts at cracking down on them are often met with backlash from wealthy alumni, putting universities in a bind.

FAU‘s Sophie Siegel in 2019 described some of the dynamics involved with partying by Greeks. She wrote that the objective of one party was to “get as many females as possible in the house with as little males [as possible].”

Sororities, according to Siegel, can throw parties but partying is is largely the province of fraternities. She wrote that theoretically “the National Panhellenic Conference, which governs the country’s 26 major sororities, maintains that sisters can’t swig booze in sorority houses.”

In the comedic movie Neighbors 2, as The Washington Post‘s Danielle Paquette wrote, a sorority leader proclaimed, “In the United States, sororities are not allowed to throw parties in their own houses. Only frats can. We’re going to start a sorority where we can party the way that we want to.”

Many sororities have special relationships with fraternities who invite their members to parties. It is purported that there is pressure on sorority members not to report any activity that might injure the relationship with the fraternity that they party with. The existence of a campus “date rape culture” has been widely disputed, but there are many anecdotal details.

Melissa Frick in 2019 wrote about a co-ed who, after being raped by fraternity members, was told, “Those guys don’t deserve to get in trouble.”

Frick reported:

According to university records, retaliation and harassment are themes in the complaints against PSP [Phi Sigma Phi]. Women often feel pressure from friends, members of Greek Life, members of their own sororities and PSP members to drop complaints. Many women stated they were discouraged from speaking out against the fraternity.

Amanda L. Hinkel‘s 2013 thesis “Sexual Victimization Among Sorority Women” gives details about her experience in a sorority at Eastern Kentucky University with partying and alcohol.

Throughout my active years, I saw so many girls drink, especially while underage, to the point where they could barely stand up straight. Especially with fraternity parties, there are always women from other sororities there, many whom I had never met or even seen before. I always worried about these girls when they were drinking, and I know of a few times that I had no clue where they ended up after the party.

A 2011 Psychology Today article “Getting Messed Up to Hook Up: The Role of Alcohol in College Students’ ‘Casual’ Sexual Encounters” by Suzanne Zalewski may help explain why drinking is so important to many students.

As long as Greek social life is centered on drinking alcohol, it will spill over from fraternity parties into bars that are considered “frat bars.” The term “frat bar” has even become part of urban slang. An internet search for frat bars will result in images and the names of bars in Tuscaloosa that are, rightly or wrongly, associated with Greek patronage.

The temporary closing of bars in T-Town, as reported by Gary Cosby, Jr. in the Tuscaloosa News, was justified because contact tracing for students had determined that there were “hot spots on campus and around the city.” Images of crowds gathered on the sidewalk at bars, which were popular with students, of people who were not wearing masks and/or socially distancing had been widely published on social media.

The remaining restrictions on bars in Tuscaloosa may result, particularly on football game weekends, in the proliferation of off-campus house parties that are held by football fans, Greeks and other students. Pre-game drinking in private housing has already been commonplace. Guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called for indoor gatherings of no more than fifty people, although the city of Tuscaloosa has allowed as many as 150 people to gather in bars. Even if private parties are smaller than that in number, many parties throughout town can just as easily become hot spots for infection.

Amanda Hinkel‘s thesis describes how “private apartments or houses are used in the hours leading up to the official event where alcohol can be consumed for hours before the event begin.” In that way any control that may have been exerted by fraternities on curbing under-aged drinking would be eliminated. When liquor at a fraternity in the past has been served, the city has passed special ordinances allowing alcohol vendors to provide drinks. The city does not require a vendor to enforce under-aged drinking codes. According to one such vendor, often security involved in checking IDs was provided only by the fraternity.

There have been myriad problems associated with the consumption of alcohol by college students for many years. With today’s Coronavirus pandemic there is an increased urgency. As Reid Wilson in The Hill explained:

Younger Americans eager to get back to their social lives are increasingly responsible for the spread of the coronavirus, risking their own health and that of their family and friends under what health experts say is the misguided impression that the virus cannot cause them harm.

The idea that “kids will be kids” implies that younger people have always engaged in risky behavior and that is just to be expected. Today younger “super-spreaders,” who may never get seriously ill or are asymptomatic, can seriously impact a community’s health and economy. It’s not child’s play anymore.

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Good News & Bad News

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Although nearly seven percent of University of Alabama students have tested positive for the Coronavirus, as Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande reported, there was a reduction in the positives last week. He wrote that the “number of daily positive tests dipped to 42 over the previous seven days after that figure sat at 125 last week.”

Still, the University of Alabama leads the nation’s schools in the number of students who’ve tested positive with over 2,000 reported cases. On September 10, 2020, Michael Innis-Jimenez‘s blog The UA Sentinel compared the school’s total infections to the total numbers in several states:

The last reported 7-day total of newly infected UA students is greater than the last 7-day totals for the entire states of Wisconsin, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, New York Iowa Arizona, Washington, Nebraska, Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Utah, South Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Nevada, West Virginia, Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, New Mexico, Montana, Rhode Island, Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, Delaware, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maine, and the State of Alabama. That’s right. UA has more than the State of Alabama because the University of Alabama is NOT properly reporting these positives to the Alabama Department of Public Health as required to do. If UA was a state, the last seven days of available data would make UA the state with the 15th highest total. Take a second to absorb that. The University of Alabama’s 7-day total puts UA with more new infections than 35 other American states. 35! 

Innis-Jimenez was featured in a September 12, 2020 article by Lauren Aratani in The Guardian “Quarantine dorms’ and suspensions: US universities fight Covid surges.” Aratani wrote:

Michael Innis-Jiminez, a professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama, said that many faculty members at his university have been wondering why the institution has not taken more serious actions as cases on campus have risen to nearly 2,000. Instead, the university’s top medical dean said that he was “cautiously optimistic” as new cases a day dropped from 164 to 125 last Friday. Some students were forced out of their dorms last month as the university moved to dedicate more dorms to quarantine students.

Innis-Jiminez said there were specific concerns about how the university will be sending students home for Thanksgiving as in-person classes are scheduled to end right before the holiday. Universities have already come under fire for sending students home after outbreaks on campus, potentially sending the virus to students’ home communities.

News about the new dip in positives at the University was released on the same day that Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited T-Town. Michael Casagrande reported:

She complimented the barbeque, the university’s response to the outbreak and looked to the future. “I can’t say Roll Tide because I’m going to other SEC schools,” she said with a grin at the end of her prepared remarks, “but I’ll say it anyway and wish you best of luck in this football season.”

An article in Sports Illustrated, published on September 11, 2020, by Ross Dellenger connected the dots between college town infection rates and football fan attendence. He wrote:

According to data from the CDC, seven of the top eight states in highest infection rates are home to at least one SEC team, and nine of the league’s 14 college towns are producing enough cases daily to be deemed sites with “uncontrollable spread,” according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. Harvard’s metric uses a seven-day rolling average of daily new virus cases per 100,000 people. Anything over 25 cases is considered uncontrollable.

Tuscaloosa is arguably one of the college towns most associated with college football. Dellenger wrote about the football stadiums in Alabama:

Some medical experts believe stadiums will become super spreaders of a virus that is already impacting a community or state. Take for instance Alabama, which has the potential to produce some of the biggest crowds in America this fall. Three of its five FBS programs are allowing per-game capacities of 36,000 (UAB), 20,400 (Alabama) and 17,500 (Auburn). Though not expected to max its capacity, UAB is allowing 50% attendance after moving its games to the 71,600-seat Legion Field.

The city of Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox has been very concerned about the impact of reduced football attendance on the city’s finances. What would a football weekend be without T-Town‘s watering holes? After a fourteen day “ban,” he relaxed the conditions that he had placed on bars. As Jason Morton reported in the Tuscaloosa News:

These changes take effect as local coronavirus cases continue an overall decline in Tuscaloosa County.

While the University of Alabama added 846 student coronavirus cases Friday to its UA System Dashboard numbers, bringing the campus total to 2,047, this increase marked a decline in daily averages, with Thursday’s student positives dropping to 65 for the day, according to the latest data provided by UA.

Maddox said enforcement and coronavirus-related data would be analyzed daily to determine the effectiveness of the latest executive order, but if the trends hold true then additional relaxations could come in the near future.

Bars were reopened on September 8, 2020, with “50 percent of capacity, as determined by the fire marshal, not to exceed 100 people.” Maddox said that enforcement of regulations would be “stepped up as the week gives way to the weekend.”

However on the Tuesday that bars reopened, WBRC Fox 6‘s reporter Ugochi Iloka posted images of unmasked, non-socially distanced crowds gathered outside of one popular student bar.

WAAY/31 ran a story on August 21, 2020, about the University of Alabama having cancelled all student events. The Crimson White‘s Jessa Reid-Bolling reported that on August 31, 2020, the moratorium on student events had been extended beyond the originally planned 14 days. Reid-Bolling wrote “The original moratorium was issued on Aug. 24 at the same time that Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox had announced that bars would be closed and bar services would be suspended for two weeks.” The University’s extension was attributed to the numbers of students who had been issued “conduct referrals.”

On September 10, 2020 the Montgomery Advertiser‘s Melissa Brown reported that “at least 639 University of Alabama students have been sanctioned in recent weeks for breaking COVID-19 restrictions in Tuscaloosa.” She wrote:

A UA spokesperson said Thursday that a suspension of one student organization is pending, while 33 individual students have been “effectively” suspended from campus while their “conduct cases proceed through due process.

While the University was extending its moratorium the city was reopening bars. The University did relax some of its restrictions. Effective on September 14th, 2020, students were allowed to once again use study spaces and dining areas, “with strict adherence to safety guidelines.” Students in the same residence halls were allowed to visit each other’s rooms.

Katherine Ellen Foley in Quartz explained the rationale behind social distancing. She wrote that six foot of social distancing was based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She pointed out that, while the World Health Organization recommended only three feet of separation, that “a particle fluid dynamicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggested that people might do well to stay more than 27 feet apart to avoid infecting one another.”

It is remarkable that the University of Alabama has required that any indoor gatherings have no more than fifty people.

There will be no large student organized events. This includes band parties, swaps, formals, out-of-town and off-campus parties or large gatherings of any kind. The guidelines for indoor events are no more than 50 individuals, with no more than 100 for outdoor events.  Most importantly, attendance limits depend on the distance capacity of the space, so each event space is different and may not allow for even 50 individuals, depending on the ability to social distance within the space. (my emphasis) These restrictions may be adjusted, up or down, if risks associated with COVID-19 change.

Yet, if students at the University were to go to an off-campus bar, based on the city of Tuscaloosa‘s new order, they may find themselves indoors with up to 100 people. A chart that the city provided breaks down the numbers for bars in terms of occupancy. There are a number of bars in T-Town that could conceivably accommodate 100 people.

The Business Insider‘s Conner Perrett wrote an article “Business owners in college towns are ‘trying to do everything’ they can to stay afloat” about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on college towns. Although T-Town isn’t mentioned, Tuscaloosa is certainly just as impacted as Chapel Hill, North Carolina or Athens, Ohio. The emphasis on re-opening student bars in Tuscaloosa may have its basis in Mayor Maddox‘s idea of an “experience economy” where bars are a vital part of the recreation sector of Tuscaloosa‘s economy.

Bars, however, have been hot spots for the Coronavirus. NPR‘s Will Stone reported that “Public health experts and top health officials, including the Dr. Tony Fauci, say the evidence is abundantly clear: When bars open, infections tend to follow.” Many bars also have unique problems associated with ventilation and smoking, as an article in the Conversation “What a smoky bar can teach us about the ‘6-foot rule’ during the COVID-19 pandemic” points out.

Perhaps, rather than depending on the city of Tuscaloosa to regulate bars, the University of Alabama might have done as the University of Wisconsin did. Undergraduate students were essentially locked down after a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank on September 7, 2020, issued a directive:

A growing number of COVID-19 cases have been detected, particularly among students living off-campus, and can be linked to situations where people did not wear face coverings or practice physical distancing. We see this reflected in the data, but it’s also apparent in social media posts and in conversations with students who have tested positive. Unfortunately, too many students have chosen to host or participate in social gatherings that seem to demonstrate a high disregard for the seriousness of this virus and the risk to our entire community.

Undergraduates were restricted to activities such as going to class and shopping for food. Students would be held “accountable for their actions on and off campus, up to and including emergency suspension. Members of the community can report unsafe behavior.”

Amanda Todd with the university’s Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration office responded to an inquiry about bars, “Bars in Madison are closed, except for outdoor seating.  But since the drinking age is 21, it’s unlikely that undergrads would be accessing them in any case.  In addition, given the Chancellor’s directive to stay home with limited exceptions for going to class, medical appointments, we would not want to see our undergrads congregating even outdoors with non-alcoholic beverages.”

To the extent that the steps taken at the University of Wisconsin worked, the school was perhaps able to reduce student related contagion without closing its bars.

Whether the city of Tuscaloosa will have made its community safer by its new order on bar regulation may be reflected in the DCH Health System Covid-19 dashboard, which showed an increase in patients after the Labor Day weekend.

With the University of Alabama‘s first home football game scheduled for October 3, 2020, hopefully the diligence of both the city and University will have resulted in a good outcome.

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The Crimson Tide’s Greatest Football Coach

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Alabama’s head football coach Nick Saban is tied with the legendary late coach Paul “Bear” Bryant when it comes to the numbers of national championships. But in terms of moral leadership Saban is doubtlessly #1!

Nick Saban led a march of Alabama athletes on August 31st, 2020 that put an exclamation mark on his previous statements on racial equality and justice. The March event was in response to a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin having shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back on August 23rd. Blake’s shooting inspired protests throughout the country that were similar to those that occurred after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020. Floyd had died after a police officer had held him in a choke hold for over eight minutes. His crime was passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

Saban made a statement on racial justice after Floyd’s death: “We’re at an important moment for our country, and now is the time for us to choose kindness, tolerance, understanding, empathy, and most importantly … it’s time to love each other. Every life is precious, and we must understand we have so many more things that unite us than divide us.”

Former Alabama football safety Rashad Johnson had declared, “A change will and is coming!!” He was joined by Offensive Lineman Chris Owns who said “Change is coming from this generation whether you like it or not. Enough is enough.”

Saban and Alabama football players participated in a video written by Alabama left tackle Alex Leatherwood:

We are a team, Black, white and brown. Together, we are a family. We are brothers who represent ourselves, our families, our hometowns, our university and our country.

We stand on the shoulders of giants — our grandparents and parents, our ancestors, our heroes and Alabama alumni, and former players who have changed the world. Beginning on our historic campus, we speak as one, acknowledging our history, honoring their legacy and building a better, more just future.

Saban’s participation in the march after Blake’s shooting from the Mal Moore Athletic Facility to Foster Auditorium on August, 31st, 2020, was a dramatic symbol of generational change. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace‘s infamous June 11, 1963 “Stand In The Schoolhouse Door” had occurred at Foster Auditorium. Wallace had attempted to prevent the enrollment of two black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone. The Alabama National Guard had been activated by President John F. Kennedy to insure that the students would not be blocked. In his 1963 inaugural address Wallace had proclaimed that there would be “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” The many trophies from Saban’s era of football victories are enshrined at the athletic facility. Foster Auditorium is an National Historic Landmark.

Saban’s statement at the video press conference that occurred two days after the march was reported by Al.com‘s Mike Rodak:

We’re not letting this die. We’re making a list of things that our players can do and can encourage other people to do in our own community, some of which they mentioned on Monday.

So this is just not, ’We came over there on Monday and we had a march,’ and now it’s over. It’s, ’Hey, we challenged everybody to do things to make a difference and now we’re going to challenge ourselves to do the same things,’ me included. And everybody can do that in their own way.

During the live streamed video conference, a handful of people made comments that were highly critical of Saban. One of them posted, “Saban is going down with Black Lives Matter. F**k u.”

Saban was aware of the negative criticism of his advocacy for racial justice. He said:

I don’t have an opinion about everybody else’s opinion. I don’t have an opinion about — we try to do the right things. We try to provide positive leadership for our players. Like I said on Monday, we’re trying to elevate our players’ chances of having success in their life, through their personal development [and] academic support so they can graduate and develop a career, and what kind of career they can develop as a football player.

But a part of that is also providing leadership to elevate people around them by using their platform in a positive way.

Al.com‘s Joseph Goodman wrote:

There is only one thing stronger than racism in the state of Alabama, and that’s Crimson Tide football.

Racism doesn’t have Najee Harris in the backfield with Alex Leatherwood and Chris Owens blocking up front on the offensive line.

This summer, members of the Alabama football team — players who will go down as legends — have found a way to harness their team’s enormous power and use it like real-life superheroes in a fight against this state’s eternal evil.

The Tuscaloosa New‘s Gary Cosby, Jr. commented:

Just as all things that have happened under Saban’s watch have unfolded with class, so also this march and rally unfolded. It is a mark of his love for his players that he stood with them and offered the first speech in front of Foster Auditorium.

But some on social media cried out as if Saban had stabbed them in the heart because he stood at the forefront as his football team marched. They were, of course, angry that Saban was standing for social justice. I wonder, do they not realize, that if one does not stand up for social justice, he is actually standing up for discrimination? Is that really what these critics want?

The idea that the Alabama football team represented a “Crimson Tide” is attributed to the Birmingham News Sports Editor Hugh Roberts who used the term in his coverage of an Alabama-Auburn game played in Birmingham in 1907.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in his I Have A Dream speech on August 1963 at the March On Washington referred to a biblical passage in Amos 5:24: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream!”

Under Nick Saban‘s leadership, perhaps a mighty Crimson Tide has washed away some of the University of Alabama‘s sins of the past and justice will finally roll down. There now actually may be a new meaning for the popular Alabama sports cheer Roll Tide Roll!

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T-Town decides to let it burn

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The University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Saag once said that bars were the fuel that fed the spread of COVID-19.

After closing bars in T-Town for fourteen days, Mayor Walt Maddox decided to reopen them on September 8th.

At the time of his decision 1,899 University of Alabama students had been infected. Since August 19th, nearly 1 in 15 University students had been infected.

The press release from the City of Tuscaloosa that announced the amended executive order gave this information:

Based on continued communication with The University of Alabama and the release of new data from The University of Alabama System on Friday evening, progress can be seen in the decline in daily averages since the last report. The City will continue to move forward with a measured and balanced response to protect our community’s health care system and economy.

“Two weeks ago, a surge of coronavirus cases on UA’s campus was threatening the continuation of in-person instruction for the Fall, plus creating potential long term impacts on DCH Regional Hospital,” Mayor Walt Maddox said. “With Fall in serious jeopardy, and at the request of the University, immediate and decisive action was required to protect our healthcare system and thousands of jobs.

Maddox had hinted in a Tuesday Council session on September 1st that he might modify his executive order. He said that he might make the decision as early as Friday. An economic relief measure for bars, the Lounge Assistance Program, was scheduled to go before the Council on September 15th.

Maddox had expressed a lot of concern over restaurants that converted into bars in evening hours. They were singled out in the new order. Accommodations were also made for students waiting outside of bars.

The order stipulated that “the City’s Infrastructure and Public Services Department will convert the space dedicated to street parking on The Strip to pedestrian right-of-way to allow for greater area outside for those waiting in lines to have the ability to practice appropriate social distancing. This conversion will occur each evening beginning at 6:01 p.m.”

A good deal of the impetus for the initial order that closed the bars came from the crowds that were seen outside of student bars. Large numbers of people were observed who were not wearing masks or socially distancing. The city took action in response to the University of Alabama‘s attempts to control the Coronavirus outbreak on campus.

Right before the city’s decision to reopen bars, the University of Alabama had extended its ban on in-person events until September 13th. It had already issued over 400 citations for COVID-19-related violations. The University informed students that off campus gatherings were prohibited by law and “University rule.” The school had previously allowed approved indoor gatherings on campus of no more than 50 people.

The City of Tuscaloosa’s new rules said that all “ABC lounge licensed establishments may operate at a reduced interior capacity of 50% of their occupancy as established by the fire marshal, not to exceed 100 persons.” The occupancy restrictions, which were not based on CDC standards, allowed twice the number of people indoors than the University had at first allowed for approved gatherings on campus.

Bars that were not licensed as lounges were required to “suspend walk up bar service and only allow alcohol sales to seated customers.” Customers would “not be allowed to enter the premises unless seating is available.”

In spite of the city’s claims about a decline in “daily averages” in the COVID-19 data, there was still a good deal of uncertainty. Al.com‘s Leada Gore reported:

Alabama could see more than 6,000 coronavirus deaths by January 2021, according to a key national forecast.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecasts the state will have 6,174 COVID-19 deaths by Jan. 1, 2021. That death toll could grow to 7,748 if social distancing mandates – including mask wearing – were eased. Universal masking, however, defined as 95% mask usage in public spaces, would drop that figure to 3,988 deaths.

NPR‘s Elissa Nadworny wrote that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which was considered a “potential model for reopening campuses,” had announced a two week lock down for undergraduates.

According to Nadworthy:

The University of Illinois has one of the largest mass testing programs of any American institution. The school is conducting, on average, between 10,000 and 15,000 saliva-based tests for COVID-19 daily, at times accounting for more than 2% of all testing done in the U.S. The decision to clamp down on students’ movements calls into question whether any amount of resources and safety precautions makes it safe to reopen college campuses.

Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande reported on what Dr. Ricky Friend, the Dean of the University of Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences, had said about the University’s decision not to end in-person classes:

“From an epidemiologic standpoint, the 18- to 25-year old group is not going to suffer much disease burden,” Friend said. “But they will spread the virus and it’s incumbent of every campus member — faculty, staff, students — to practice [University] guidelines wherever they go.”

Al.com‘s Conner Sheet‘s article “‘You don’t exist’: Inside UA’s COVID-19 isolation dorms” painted a stark picture of campus life under quarantine. He said that daily life in an “Alabama isolation dorm can be boring and bleak.” He wrote:

In recent days, students’ family members and Tuscaloosa residents who are not UA students, faculty or staff have called for the university to institute additional measures to ensure it is doing everything possible to ensure more students and locals don’t contract COVID-19.

Some believe that the majority of sick students should not remain on campus after receiving positive test results.

Reportedly hundreds of University students withdrew from school before tuition payments were due.

University of Alabama professor Michael Innis-Jimenez wrote an open letter to University of Alabama officials that was published in Al.com. Innis-Jimenez called for measures “to protect the health of all of us in Tuscaloosa and home communities”:

1. Move all instruction online.

2. Test ALL students for COVID-19 at university expense.

3. Start a staggered move-out (over 3 weeks) of all students who test negative. Recommend that they isolate at home for two weeks and notify the receiving state’s department of health that they are traveling from a known hot-spot.

4. Isolate ALL students (regardless of if they live on or off campus) in university isolation space at university expense. This includes meals and basic living accessories including furniture, microwave oven, and legitimate isolation from other students and non-medical employees. Students should stay in isolation until a doctor deems they are no longer infectious.

5. If COVID-19 positive students refuse to remain in isolation and/or their parents pick them up, assist them in packing in a way that minimizes the danger to others and immediately notify the receiving state’s department of that the COVID positive and possibly infectious student is returning home.

A petition from the United Campus Workers of Alabama includes this statement;

According to the September 4th UA System Covid-19 Dashboard update, 846 students have tested positive for the virus at the University of Alabama since August 28th, bringing UA’s cumulative case total to over 2,000 students. Many colleges and universities across the country with infection levels far below UA’s are shifting to only online classes in order to protect students and workers from infection. For weeks, UA has insisted “nothing has gone wrong” despite the hundreds of students who have been infected by the virus, quarantined in substandard conditions, and disciplined by the university. All the while, local and national media have run dozens of stories on UA’s rising case count and administrative missteps.

As our case numbers continue to rise, the UA administration must take responsibility for the unsafe situations in which they are putting students, workers, and the Tuscaloosa community. Regardless of its plans for the future of on-campus instruction this semester, UA must operate more transparently and responsibly in the best interests of students, workers and the local community.

In an op-ed in the University’s student newspaper The Crimson White Staff columnist Kelby Hutchinson called for the resignation of University President Stuart R Bell and “a formal apology to the student body for the greed that drove them to put human lives at risk for the benefit of their bottom line.”

The University’s best and brightest minds have labored long and hard on its plans to cope with the Coronavirus. The University has spent millions of dollars in Covid related infrastructure improvements. It has presented highly detailed instructions to students on what they are expected to do.

The University’s Student Government Association President Demarcus Joiner asked students to “continue abiding by the health and safety protocols that keep us all safe.”

The lyrics of Jerry Garcia‘s song “Deal” described a card game:

Since it costs a lot to win, and even more to lose,
You and me bound to spend some time wond’rin’ what to choose.
Goes to show, you don’t ever know,
Watch each card you play and play it slow,
Wait until that deal come round,
Don’t you let that deal go down, no, no.

There is a lot at stake in how the city and university’s plans pan out. With any luck they will be playing a winning hand.

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Bars — the gasoline that fuels Coronavirus?

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The University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Saag was quoted by Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande:

If you give it fuel and you give it opportunity, it’s going to take off,” Saag said. “And that’s what we’ve seen and that’s why the sentinel testing is so important such that if we can monitor and find an outbreak, a pocket, it’s very much like they’re doing in California right now in trying to control wildfires. The idea is to catch it before it spreads widely because once it gets into widespread, it becomes much more difficult to bring under control.”

Casagrande concluded, “The City of Tuscaloosa and University of Alabama determined the bar scene was that gasoline.”

One phenomenon that has been consistent throughout the country is that Greeks on university campuses have some of the highest infection rates. (Universities such as Troy and Auburn in Alabama, schools in Florida and elsewhere have as well placed the onus for rising infections on Greeks on campus.)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s ArLuther Lee wrote that Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox had said, “The truth is that fall in Tuscaloosa is in serious jeopardy.” Lee reported that university officials claimed that the “rapid rise in cases was particular among fraternities and sororities.”

The paper “Heavy Drinking in College Students: Who Is at Risk and What Is Being Done About It?” published in the National Library of Medicine deals with patterns of drinking by those in Greek organizations.

It could be reasonably concluded that the most problematic bars in T-Town have had predominantly Greek clientele. The high rates of infections among Greeks on campus may well be associated with activities at student bars.

Perhaps because of fears that bars could be closed in Auburn as they were in Tuscaloosa, two student bars in that community voluntarily closed their doors, as Sara Palczewski reported in the Opelika-Auburn News.

Some bar owners in Tuscaloosa blamed students, according to Mark Hughes Cobb‘s article in The Tuscaloosa News. At Tuscaloosa‘s first city Council meeting after the mayor’s executive order closing bars, local bar owners expressed their dismay.

Some of the bar owners who made comments at the meeting claimed that they had always scrupulously observed the safety measures required by state’s orders on the operation of bars. Bars owners that did not have student patrons complained that they were unfairly included in the city’s order on closing bars. One asked if, instead of closing bars, if the city could have allowed bars to exclude minors from their premises. City Attorney Glenda Webb said that the city was unable to enforce any age restrictions. Minors who are nineteen years of age by state law are currently allowed into bars.

Had the bars and hybrid bar/restaurants that have had problems associated with students voluntarily closed their doors, as was done in Auburn, perhaps the bars that are frequented by permanent residents of Tuscaloosa could have remained open.

At the same time that the city of Tuscaloosa was closing its bars, the University of Alabama regained its position as the nation’s number one party school according to the Princeton Review.

Al.com‘s Ken Whitmire opined:

It’s a constant of the universe that college students will do dumb things.

I’m trying to keep all that in mind when I see pictures from Gallettes in Tuscaloosa or Skybar in Auburn, where maskless college students have packed the bars in the middle of a pandemic, social distancing be damned.

A resolution before the City Council might well be called the “Bail Out The Bars” resolution. It will approve as much as $400,000 in temporary economic assistance to bars and restaurants

It states that: “The University of Alabama has taken on -campus measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Those measures include the cancellation of all non-academic events, the closing of dining rooms, and restrictions in access to fraternity and sorority houses and the University of Alabama recognizes there are areas of student gatherings beyond the University’ s control.”

The resolution further states that “bars and restaurants present a unique risk for the spread of COVID- 19 based upon the length of time people spend in close proximity indoors and the inability to wear a face covering while eating and drinking and there is a concern patrons of such establishments are not complying with the State Health Officers Order by failing to wear face coverings and to observe the social distancing requirement to maintain at least six feet of separation.”

Is Tuscaloosa caught between a rock and a hard place? Local bars, that have had no problems with college students, have been forced to close in order that the University of Alabama can continue to offer in person instruction. This is due, to some great extent, on laws that allow minors to enter bars. And things are complicated further by a widespread belief that laws on underaged drinking can be circumvented. Tuscaloosa, unlike its sister college town Oxford, Mississippi, has never taken major steps to enforce preventing underaged drinking.

Maybe the crisis that the pandemic has created should be considered a wake up call for Tuscaloosa to finally get serious about its problem with underaged drinking?

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Barring a Miracle, will the spread of COVID-19 end?

T-Town has closed its bars–for fourteen days at least.

Al.com columnist Kyle Whitmire had been begging Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivy to close bars on Twitter. “It’s probably too late, but if you don’t shut down the bars in Auburn and Tuscaloosa — forget football season — we’re not going to have college much longer.”

The City of Tuscaloosa didn’t wait on the state to take action. On August 24th, it participated in a joint press conference with the University of Alabama to announce the closing of bars.

Held on the lawn on the side of the University’s rowing facility, preparations for the conference slightly resembled the way chairs might be set up for a funeral. Many students certainly were grieving after it was announced that bars would be closed.

Closing T-Town‘s watering holes followed nationwide publicity about large crowds that had gathered outside of bars on the weekend before the school began classes for the Fall semester.

As Montgomery Advertiser‘s Melissa Brown reported, in less than 72 hours after school had resumed classes, the University’s President Stuart Bell announced that he was “deeply disappointed” in student behavior.

Bell soon announced new directives concerning the safety and well-being of the campus community. Brown wrote:

Students soon received revised guidelines, which include additional restrictions at Greek houses, in dorms and a 14-day ban on student events outside of classroom instruction.

UA’s new restrictions focus on residential buildings, which include Greek houses and dorms. Visitors are now restricted in both, and common areas must be closed. 

Greek houses are now required to offer meals in “grab-n-go” form. 

Off-campus residents were also warned that any gatherings would violate university guidelines, as well as the law. Students could face “escalated” consequences, up to and including suspension.

Brown pointed out that faculty members had complained that the university had not provided enough information about the facts that its decisions were being based on.

AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande quoted what the university’s vice president for Student Life Myron Pope had said in a meeting with student leaders:

“Just in the last few days as we’ve tested at Coleman Coliseum and the Student Health Center, we’ve seen the numbers jump up from 1 percent to 4 percent to 5 percent. And in one particular case, I think it was Coleman Coliseum (Thursday), actually it might be the Student Health Center, we saw 29 percent of the students who tested were positive.”

Pope’s statement immediately prompted a response from the university’s president Bell:

“Earlier today, our Vice President of Student Life, Myron Pope, had a conversation with student leaders. It is disturbing to see statements from that conversation taken out of context. The quoted positivity rate is grossly misleading as presented. The positivity rate attributed to Myron deals with a sub-group of students who identified as symptomatic or exposed to someone with COVID-19. Such samples are in no way reflective of the positivity rate of the campus community. Any attempt to compare these figures to our entry testing of more than 30,000 students is misguided. Campus-wide re-entry test results remain around 1% overall.”

The staff of the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White had just published an editorial “Our View: No, President Bell, we won’t be your PR.”

Students have taken the University’s requirements as suggestions solely because administration has as well. The return plan has purposely avoided aforementioned important aspects, which leave a portion of the UA population living in uncertainty. It is impossible to return to campus safety if all identities aren’t even important enough to be included in a campus wide return plan. We ask President Bell to do his part in ensuring all students, faculty and staff adhere to the PPE and social distancing requirements. That’s the only way we can truly stay “Still Tide Together.”

Alabama Political Reporter‘s Josh Moon warned that student behavior at both of the state’s major institutions of higher education might lead to the end of on-campus instruction. “Both Auburn and Alabama reported extremely low positivity rates for students who were tested either shortly after arriving on campus or in the days leading up. Those rates appear to be increasing sharply as more testing is conducted on campus.”

Soon Twitter became all atwitter. Kyle Whitmire Tweeted that there would be a joint University/City of Tuscaloosa press conference. “I’m hearing the city will likely announce the closure of bars and bar service at restaurants.”

Indeed Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox announced at the press conference held that morning that bars would be closed. Gary Cosby wrote in the Tuscaloosa News:

“The truth is, fall in Tuscaloosa is in serious jeopardy,” Maddox said during a joint news conference with officials from the University held Monday at the Manderson Landing boathouse. “As mayor, my first responsibility is to protect the health, safety and welfare of this community and of every person that is living here, studying here or working here.”

“The rising COVID cases we have seen in recent days is unacceptable and if unchecked threatens our ability to complete the semester on campus,” UA President Stuart Bell said, referring to 531 positive tests since August 19. “As we began this year we had very robust testing, so we know that our students that showed up here all tested negative. What we have seen is an increase in those numbers. What we are trying to do now, certainly with our general student body, is flatten that (growth) curve.”

Ricky Friend, the dean of UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, said that his department had led the effort to test students who returned to campus.  

“We encountered many students who have been exposed since returning to campus, particularly in the Greek system,” Friend said. “The trend continued throughout the week and now has reached levels that require a significant intervention.” 

At the press conference it was also announced that the university system’s COVID-19 dashboard would be up later in the day. After an initial crash, the dashboard reported the numbers of cases on campus.

The Crimson White‘s article about the dashboard by Jessica Reid Bolling and Keely Brewer gave these details:

The University of Alabama System released results of COVID-19 testing on Monday, showing The University of Alabama has had 531 cumulative cases among students, faculty and staff since August 19. 

The UA System dashboard for this data originally showed 568 positive cases at the University since Jan. 1 when it went online at 5 p.m. It was later updated to show 531 cases at the University. 

Currently, the University of Alabama’s positive cases account for about 94% of cumulative positive cases system-wide. 

SafeReturnUA, the “UA Community Organizing for a Safe Return to Campus,” has been expressing concerns about the “unacceptable numbers” reported by the university. The organization said that data for faculty and staff had not been included in the initial dashboard numbers. They Tweeted that “according to an email sent by faculty senate president Rona Donahoe, the majority of student cases are off campus and have led to students returning home to quarantine. 75 on campus isolation beds are full as of yesterday morning.

The University of Alabama Student Government Association‘s President Demarcus Joiner expressed optimism that his fellow students would cooperate with the university and city:

Today in his press conference, Dr. Bell asked all of us to “take a look in the mirror” and ask how we could personally help in the fight against COVID-19.

It reminded me of the great Michael Jackson, whose song “Man in the Mirror” wisely told us “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

I know I’m grateful for the chance to help make the world a better place by making these simple choices, each and every day.

However, as the reporter for CBS/42‘s Malique Rankin observed, not all University of Alabama students were as willing to “look in the mirror” as Joiner was. She Tweeted:

Covering the bar shutdowns happening in Tuscaloosa— and being greeted by some very rude students. Getting flicked off. People screaming “stupid b*tch” and “f*ck Walt Maddox” at us. We’re on the sidewalk. In a public space. Just doing our jobs.

Unsure why these students decided to direct their anger at us. We don’t work for the mayor. We don’t work for the bars. We are just covering a story.

Another student yelled at us, “thanks for shutting us down news people.” For the record, I don’t have that authority.

Mayor Walt Maddox’s executive order stipulated that all establishments with Alabama Beverage Control lounge alcohol licenses in Tuscaloosa cannot sell liquor. Restaurants can only sell alcohol to seated customers. Some places however that sell liquor are hybrid bar/restaurants. As long as there is food service, it would appear that seated customers can order pitchers of beer or mixed drinks.

The news about bar closings would not be complete without a perspective from a sports writer. Cecil Hurt in the Montgomery Advertiser opined:

The announcement lacked the visual drama of Carrie A. Nation, the Prohibition warrior of the previous century, smashing bar tables and whiskey bottles with her dreaded hatchet. Instead, it was Walt Maddox at a podium Monday, announcing a two-week shutdown of Tuscaloosa bars.

The move is experimental — Maddox conceded that “no one knows” any certain formula for stopping the spread of COVID-19.

The debate about that move has quickly turned political. There are two legitimate sides to the argument, which can be summarized as the health and safety community on the one hand and the needs of the Tuscaloosa economy on the other. Whether bar owners deserve any more blame for opening than UA does for bringing 30,000 of the bars’ best customers back to town is a fair question.

Every day draws an SEC season closer but nothing is definite yet At some point, inevitably will create a definite “yes” or “no.” A “yes” would be great news for Tuscaloosa but if it comes in the next two weeks, there won’t be any champagne corks popping in town.

Hurt may be right. But the ultimate question that should be asked in T-Town is: If laws on underaged drinking have been long ignored then why should anyone expect social distancing and mask orders to be obeyed?

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