A color run provides a good illustration of people being in a crowd during a pandemic. Just envisage the paint as viral droplets.
But people participating in a color run are usually moving. It’s a race. The crowd that gathered on The Strip to celebrate the University of Alabama football team’s national championship on January 11th, 2021, was largely stationary. After all people were packed together like sardines. They were, of course, eventually able to move out of the way of the squad cars that dispersed them.
There have been newspaper reports that the event on The Strip, which largely involved four or five thousand students who poured out of bars and came from nearby student housing, did not lead to a significant spike in Covid-19 cases. That’s remarkable. Events throughout the nation that have involved far fewer people, such as people going to church, wedding receptions, White House events and parties, have been super-spreaders.
A Facebook page post, which might well have been tongue and cheek, explained the lack of contagion among students. It said that students had developed a “herd immunity.” “Between their parties and bars and surging numbers from earlier in the pandemic they’ve all had it already.” Of course, if that unlikely scenario were actually the case, they could never ever see their parents, grandparents and outside friends, etc. without potentially exposing them.
NOLA.com‘s Emily Woodruff‘s article about how New Orleans in 2020 became an early coronavirus hotspot quoted Jeremy Kamil, a professor of microbiology and immunology:
“If college students are crowding on Bourbon Street, a lot of those people won’t get seriously ill,” said Kamil. “But if they go home and visit grandma, or if they spread it to someone else who spreads it to someone else who works in a nursing home or is a prison employee, then all of a sudden you’re indirectly involved in a chain of events where now you, in some way, have participated in the death of 90 people.”
New Orleans, in preparation for the 2021 Mardi Gras took measures, such as shutting bars citywide and putting up street barriers. Jeff Adelson reported for NOLA.com that bars that flouted coronavirus rules were being shuttered in early February.
Another national football championship brought people into the streets. On January 7, 2021, in Tampa Bay and other cities Super Bowl celebrants duplicated what occurred on The Strip. USAToday‘s Josh Peter wrote:
Thousands of people took to the roads and the streets across this city Sunday night after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl 55. What many didn’t bring to the impromptu celebration was masks.
The festivities turned especially raucous outside the Tampa Convention Center downtown, where college-aged revelers cheered, guzzled alcohol and sometimes surrounded cars that were blaring music.
There was little sign of masks.
“It’s been a long year with COVID,’’ said Kyle Bradshaw, 25, wearing a Tom Brady jersey. “People are ready to party.’’
According to AL.com‘s John Sharp there was a lot of apprehension in Mobile, Alabama over Mardi Gras activities. He wrote:
Mobile’s police chief said Monday he remains concerned about the “safety of our men and women” on Mardi Gras Day when the city moves forward with closing its downtown streets – allowing for potential crowds and with the potential of eight separate block parties occurring during the day.
Chief Lawrence Battiste said that “less than 25%” of his department is vaccinated from COVID-19, as most law enforcements have opted not to receive a shot since they had first offered them last month. That means most of the police patrolling the streets during Mardi Gras will be “exposed to the virus.”
As far as vaccinations were concerned a report by USAFacts indicated that younger people were far less likely to be vaccinated:
53% of adults “definitely” plan to get vaccinated or have already received full vaccination. Forty-five percent either said they were less than absolute that they would get vaccinated (responding “probably,” “probably not,” or definitely will not”) or reported that they’d already had their first shot and don’t plan to receive a second.
There are demographic differences between people seeking vaccinations and those who aren’t. Fifty-one percent of adults under 25 said they were uncertain or won’t get fully vaccinated, compared with 27% of the 65 and older population who said the same.
Mandatory testing for the Covid-19 virus was only required at the University of Alabama for on-campus students returning after its break. Any vaccination requirements may likewise be limited to students who live on-campus. And CNBC.com‘s Abigail Johnson Hess wrote that it would be difficult to keep unvaccinated students off-campus.
At the University of Massachusetts, as reported in Forbes by Michael T Nietzel, because of an increase in Covid-19 cases, the university’s campus risk level was placed at “High Risk” with a number of “significant new restrictions on classes and other campus activities for a two week period.” Neitzel wrote:
University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy acknowledged that the steps “may seem like drastic measures.” But, he continued, “faced with the surge in cases we are experiencing in our campus community, we have no choice but to take these steps. By acting aggressively now, we are confident we can contain this surge and more quickly return to normal operations, including a resumption of in-person classes and organized student activities. Our extensive planning process anticipated the possibility of this occurrence, and we are prepared to take swift and decisive action to protect our community. Be assured that in all we do, the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff are of paramount concern.”
Perhaps T-Town and the University of Alabama will continue to beat the odds and the large numbers of students who have not observed Covid-19 safety precautions when they are off-campus will not precipitate the kind of spike in cases that occurred in Massachusetts. In any event, people who are in the college age range will not likely require hospitalization. Many are asymptomatic and might not even be aware that they have been infected since there is no mandatory testing for students. However they can certainly spread the virus in the community.