A Bama COVID Experience!

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How the University of Alabama will reopen for face to face learning in August is as yet uncertain. In April University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John announced the formation of a task force led by UAB Health System experts to develop plans for the three University of Alabama System campuses.

The Yellowhammer News reported that St John “joined an exclusive national group for a discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and other key Trump administration officials on how to best get Americans safely back to school in the fall.” The website said:

Clay Ryan, vice chancellor for Governmental Affairs & Economic/Workforce Development, told Yellowhammer News in a statement, “Chancellor St. John presented on the four pillars of our plans for reopening our campuses: testing, tracking, tracing, and treatment.”

“Vice President Pence and Dr. Birx were impressed by the Help Beat Covid-19 symptom tracking tool, and we believe this group of higher education leaders will reconvene in the next few weeks at the White House to discuss fall plans with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and other members of the White House task force,” Ryan concluded.

Insight into how a university might reopen was provided in a DemocracyNow! interview with Dr. Ashish Jha, professor of global health and director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute. Dr. Jha, in a response to a question about schools such as the University of Alabama which were reopening, said:

As you might imagine, this is not just a conversation I’m having with lots of public health people and education officials, but also at home with the kids about what’s going to happen in the fall.

The way I think about this is there’s going — what is likely to happen is a lot of variations. Some schools are going to open, some schools are going to stay online. What should drive the decision-making? Well, one is how much community transmission is happening in that place at that time. So, if we’re thinking about Harvard University, for instance, how much community transmission is happening in eastern Massachusetts? If a lot of people are getting infected and sick, it’s going to be very hard for Harvard or any university in eastern Massachusetts to open.

Second is around availability of testing. I think you have to have a strategy where you’re going to have to be able to test kids and staff and faculty on an ongoing basis.

Third is you’re going to have to do certain social distancing things. There are going to be no large classes. There should be no large classes. There should be — if you’re going to do sporting events, certainly not with any kind of spectators, and you have to really think about what sporting events can you justify and how do you do that.

So there’s a lot of changes that are going to need to happen. I like the idea of starting early and trying to end early. I think most of us believe there will be a surge of cases in the fall. All the principles I just laid out need to happen for primary and secondary schools, as well, really rethinking things like cafeteria, rethinking things like sports. And if we do all of that, I believe there’s a very, very good chance that we can open up schools, we can get kids back to school in the fall. It may not look like a normal fall, but if we can get through this fall and we have a vaccine early in 2021, we can get through this pandemic.

Perhaps the elephant in the room, or at least on campus, is how the University of Alabama’s sports program will be affected by the pandemic. Some insight as to what conditions the university’s championship football team might play under this year was given in AP reporter Steve Megargee’s article “NCAA to lift moratorium on football, basketball workouts.”

Margargee wrote:

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in conference call Wednesday that he believes the Buckeyes could safely play home games with 20,000 to 30,000 fans in its 105,000-seat stadium.

“I think we can get there,” Smith said.

Smith said he hadn’t figured out yet how those 20,000 to 30,000 spectators would be chosen. He said masks and other precautions would be required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Smith added that Ohio State is ready to open the 15,000-square-foot Woody Hayes Athletic Center to athletes starting June 8 if the NCAA allows it. About 10 players at a time would be allowed to work out on staggered scheduled with social-distancing and other hygiene precautions in place. Some coaches returned to the complex on a limited basis this week.

Most athletic departments need the revenue generated from football to fund their other sports. Hundreds of schools are reeling financially from the effects of the pandemic. Athletic departments, particularly at smaller schools and in Division II, have already cut a number of sports.

The NCAA this week lowered the minimum and maximum number of games Division II schools are required to play in all sports next year. The move includes a 33% reduction in the minimum number of games needed for sponsorship and championship qualification in most sports.

The University of Alabama’s athletic director Greg Byrne has yet to reveal any details about the plans for the Crimson Tide. They may well differ from what Ohio State’s athletic director is contemplating. He did send a Bryne Notice email that said, “we recently added a pack of Alabama-themed face coverings to our online store.”

Crucial to the financial welfare of the City of Tuscaloosa is its “experience economy.” As reported by Jason Morton in The Tuscaloosa News the city’s Elevate/Tuscaloosa program includes $3 million that will be “targeted toward bolstering the city’s ‘experience economy’ by bringing in more concerts to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, more events to Live at the Plaza, and more music, food and art festivals, among other events.” Just when the requirements for “social distancing” and crowd sizes will allow the resumption of such activities is uncertain.

The University of Alabama’s sports program and other activities at the University are tangential yet at the same time significant components of Tuscaloosa’s “experience economy.” In the past many of Tuscaloosa’s “experience” events have coincided with the University’s sports and other activities. Of course students have been an important part of the audience for such events.

The city’s sales tax revenues have decreased since the onset of the pandemic. The sectors that have shown the most significant negative impacts can be associated with the absence of University students and events that were cancelled by the University.

A lot rests on what the University’s COVID experience will entail. Certainly the best and brightest minds at the University are at work in cobbling together the details on just how the Bama tradition will continue during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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