Stemming the High Tide of Covid in T-Town

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Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox during a Pre-Council meeting on December 22, 2020, said that he was going to meet with the University of Alabama‘s President Dr. Stuart Bell to discuss the impact of students returning to campus. Maddox was concerned about the consequences of the University’s football team winning the National Championship on January 11th.

He said that Tuscaloosa had entered a “dark season” for the pandemic, with mounting local hospitalizations. How would T-Town fare if University students returned to campus to celebrate a college football national championship? The Mayor said that citations from the Tuscaloosa Police Department for not wearing masks or other violations of state and local Covid-19 orders were paid little notice by students. Instead the student non-academic misconduct citations (SNAMs) issued by the University’s police had “more bite, since they would go on student records.

Any visitor to the University of Alabama campus will observe that most students wear masks. During football games most students were masked as well. On a national basis, most college students are behaving responsibly. CNBC‘s Jessica Dickler reported at the end of 2020 that Covid cases on campuses were surging. She wrote that Princeton‘s President Christopher Eisgruber said, “If we test the campus population regularly, and if everyone on campus rigorously adheres to public health guidance about masking, social distancing and other practices, we can welcome a far greater number of students back.” USA Today’s Suzanne Hirt asked, “Are college COVID-19 cases the fault of campuses full of reckless partiers?” She answered, “No.” She wrote that students were being unfairly shamed and blamed.

From the very start of the pandemic, as TIME‘s Katie Reilly wrote, “coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to fraternities.” The idea of a Farm Party in Tuscaloosa was nixed at the last minute. Many of the establishments in T-Town that have had the most egregious violations of Covid-19 regulations are popular student and Greek hangouts. It is certainly arguable that most students affiliated with Greek organizations have behaved as responsibly as other students. But the Greek lifestyle is uniquely associated with the spread of the Coronavirus.

Since over 35 percent of the undergraduate student body at the University of Alabama are Greeks, an extraordinary situation may exist. If, out of the 11,000 Greeks on campus, only a small number are behaving irresponsibly there still could well be a threat to the community’s public safety. The University has previously taken extraordinary steps to curb the impact of Greek life, as AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande reported on August 21, 2020.

Mayor Walt Maddox and University of Alabama President Stuart Bell will discuss steps that the University can take to mitigate the impact of the University on the health of T-Town. Would further restrictions on the campus Greek community, or even a ban on fraternities until the pandemic subsides, be a successful tactic? Could the University further curtail large off campus gatherings of students, at parties and bars? Will the University of Alabama Police Department be called upon to more aggressively enforce state and local Covid orders?

Most T-Town residents will undoubtedly be as enthusiastic as any students at the University, should the Crimson Tide win another National Championship. It would be tragic if, as a consequence of irresponsible celebrating, the further spread of Covid-19 occurred.

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