T-Town has been in the national news lately because of stories about COVID-19 parties. Bruce Y Lee wrote an article “Are Covid-19 Coronavirus Parties Really A Thing In Alabama?” in Forbes magazine that said:
A recent example is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Allegedly, college students there have been holding such Covid-19 parties in which attendees pay an entry fee, someone brings the SARS-CoV2 with him or her to the party, and the first person who ends up gets infected at the party then wins the collective pot of entry fees.
Lee posted the University of Alabama‘s disclaimer. You shouldn’t expect a mea culpa from the school unless iron-clad evidence is available of course.
One thing that is certain. Any nationwide publicity about COVID-19 parties in Tuscaloosa was the last thing that the University of Alabama wanted just before re-enrollment began.
The difficulty in identifying any student who may have been involved shouldn’t be too surprising. In the case of a Rockland County suburb nine guests at a posh party tested positive. Subpoenas were necessary for the local authorities to get the names of any of the infected guests.
Stories had been circulating in T-Town about the COVID parties for weeks. A Tuscaloosa Council woman Cynthia McKinstry had even mentioned them in a committee meeting.
Then Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith, at a Pre-Council meeting on June 30th, stated that “The one thing that we have seen over the past few weeks were parties going on in the city, county and several locations where students or kids would come in with known positives. We thought that was a rumor at first. We did some additional research, not only at the doctor’s office but at the state and they had the same information.”
He also said that some of the people who were tested used out-of-state IDs. That would indicate that some of the people involved were students whose permanent residence was not in Tuscaloosa.
Mark Hughes Cobb reported in the Tuscaloosa News what a local doctor had said:
Dr. Ramesh Peramsetty, a local physician who has been actively posting on West Alabama social media groups regarding pandemic testing and screening, from the perspective of his First Care and Crimson Care clinics, said COVID party stories have been going around for weeks. He posted what he’d heard about them as far back as June 8.
“While my nursing staff was triaging patients for COVID-19 swabbing, they were told about the COVID-19 house parties and were even shown videos of the parties by college students,” Peramsetty said.
“When students are called for results, we noticed that some were very excited and happy that they were positive, while others were very upset that they were negative.”
Although Dr. Peramsetty may not have viewed the videos, he felt confident enough in what his staff had told him to mention them.
However, if any of the videos had ever been posted on social media sites they seem to have been scrubbed. Conceivably the subjects in the alleged COVID party videos may have decided that perhaps they shouldn’t be feeling all that proud about them. If University of Alabama students had been in the videos, then the University’s “thorough investigation” was certainly impeded.
In the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White featured Grace Schepis’s article “Local doctor: University left key clinic out of ‘corona parties’ investigation”
Schepis wrote, “While these rumors may have raised eyebrows, they’ve also raised concerns about the University’s preparedness for the fall.”
She quoted the University’s President Stuart Bell as having said, “I think everyone needs to take this virus seriously. And I think [people] are making rumors of almost anything you could imagine someone would say. We look, certainly within our leadership, among our SGA, among our Greeks, and are communicating to them the importance of making sure that you make good decisions and smart decisions, and we will continue to do that as a University.”
Schepis continued, “The University did not provide a specific description of its investigation, but The Crimson White is actively seeking that information. Despite Crimson Care’s close proximity to campus, Peramsetty said he was never contacted by the University throughout its investigation about possible instances of these parties or any related cases. Peramsetty said his staff have informed the City of Tuscaloosa, but not the University directly.”
She further reported:
Garrett Bridger Gilmore, an English instructor and organizer for Safe Return UA, thinks that there is a bigger lesson to learn from this incident.
“Whether COVID parties really happened or not, this is an important lesson that we cannot only rely on individual choices to keep us safe when students return to campus,” Gilmore said. “Many of UA’s proposed policies rely on students who test positive to quarantine themselves, but they haven’t released details on who will be responsible for enforcing quarantining or how they will do it.”
On June 15, the University released a rudimentary plan for students to return to campus in the fall. The plan included quarantine measures for those who test positive while on campus and an optional contact tracking system for students, but even new additions to the plan have yet to provide details on enforcement.
“Without a public plan that accounts for how UA will implement universal testing and for what measures will be taken to ensure that students who are infected don’t carry on their lives like everything is normal, it’s hard for many university employees to believe that UA is taking COVID-19 as seriously as they say they are,” Gilmore said.
One thing is clear. In T-Town many people who were apprehensive about the reopening of the University of Alabama were hardly reassured about the COVID party stories.
Many residents were already aware of the non-stop partying that had been going on by University students who’d never left town after the school ended its face to face instruction in March. They also knew that some students had returned to the neighborhoods that are adjacent to the university. There had been newspaper accounts of campus bars where social distancing regulations had been violated. Some of these bars had been forced to close because their staff had been infected with the Coronavirus. In effect what had been going on in certain bars had been a form of COVID-19 parties–without the actual intention of the participants being infected.
Should any of the COVID-19 party goers have been University of Alabama students, for the University to announce that the students who were involved would not be allowed to re-enroll would greatly reassure T-Town residents. Contact tracing of all potentially infected persons is also needed. As it stands now, without any determination of who the people were who participated in the parties, there is no reason to think that they are not remaining in town and still not engaging in reckless behavior.