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.
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.