Ohio State University is outpacing many states in testing its both on-campus and off-campus students. The school has tested 200,000 students since it started processing tests on campus on October, 2020.
The Columbus Dispatch‘s Sheridan Hendrix wrote that “COVID-19 tests became mandatory for students living in dorms. Testing later increased to include students living off-campus and frontline employees.”
Simone Jasper in the Miami Herald reported that the plunge in Covid cases nationwide could be attributed in part to the fact that “the seven-day average of new tests was trending downward in recent days.” Jasper wrote:
With the focus shifting to the COVID-19 vaccination effort, Eleanor Murray, a Boston University School of Public Health expert, pointed out some cases may simply be going unnoticed. Murray said she worried it could be getting more difficult to be tested as focus shifts to vaccination efforts.
The Nashville Tennessean‘s Brett Kelman described how the partying which had occurred all during the pandemic throughout the South culminated in T-Town:
On Jan. 11, as many southern states were grappling with the most infections they’d ever seen, the Alabama Crimson Tide crushed the Ohio State Buckeyes in the last game of a bizarre and incomplete season of college football.
When final whistle blew, thousands of Alabama college students took to the streets of Tuscaloosa to celebrate amid the deadliest year of their lives. The crowd, mostly unmasked, packed shoulder-to-shoulder on a quarter-mile street called The Strip. The spread of the virus was far smaller than the Mardi Gras carnival that kicked off coronavirus 11 months prior, but parallels in behavior were obvious.
They chugged beers. They chanted cheers. They spread joy. And the second year of coronavirus in the American South began the same as the first – with a party.
Although Alabama‘s Crimson Tide beat the Ohio State Buckeyes in the football championship game, it appears that Ohio State University is winning in terms of testing on campus. At the University of Alabama the testing of off-campus students, which comprise seventy-five percent of its student body, is voluntary. The school has attempted to increase its sentinel testing (random sampling of asymptomatic individuals), as Kelly Hutchinson in the campus newspaper The Crimson White reported, by “offering incentives like gift cards and BamaCash” to off-campus students who are not required to be tested.
UAB epidemiologist Dr. Suzanne Judd, as reported by Donna Thornton, has said that “herd immunity” might explain the recently decreasing numbers in Covid cases in Alabama. She speculated that more people were infected early in the pandemic than have tested positive. She said that studies indicate that more people have antibodies for COVID-19 than those who tested positive for the virus. She said that, combined with vaccinations, those earlier infections might promote a “herd immunity.” Judd‘s idea about herd immunity may differ from other experts in the field.
Christelle Ilboudo, MD, infectious disease expert at MU Health Care, doubts that infection will provide long-term protection from the virus. She and other epidemiologists think that “herd immunity” will not be achieved until 80-90% of the population have COVID-19 immunity. “We have not achieved any herd immunity through a natural disease process to most major infectious diseases that affect the population to this scale. All of the major infections I know of have required vaccination.”
Newspaper headlines about declining cases may result in people exercising less caution when in public.
An article in the Tuscaloosa News by Becky Hopf about a proposed Tuscaloosa Half Marathon for March reported that runners would be maskless. She wrote:
Since 2019, FRESHJUNKIE Racing has administered the races, and, in the time of COVID, race director Jonathan Dziuba assures the event will execute safety precautions.
“The main points of the plan that concern runners is the assigned wave start times based on the runners’ anticipated finish time, the requirement to wear a mask at all times when not actually running [emphasis mine] on the race course and the lack of a big post-race party atmosphere this year. The focus is on the run and giving people an opportunity to compete in one.“
Wearing a mask while running is required in any safe event. In the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds has written about Covid issues and running. “If you pass other runners, try to swing at least 6 feet wide, and preferably 15 feet or more, because respiratory particles are unlikely to float that far, he said. And avoid drafting behind other racers; their expired air congregates in the shoulder-wide slipstream behind them.”
She wrote that gaiters were often used and that runners must wear them “or another facial covering at the start and whenever they pass other runners en route.” Bert Blocken, a professor of civil engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and KU Leuven in Belgium (who studies airflow, including during cycling and running events), said that runners should “carry a handkerchief and keep their mucus and spittle contained,” In such races, said. He added that “it is well known that saliva and snot flies around.”
Reynolds explained, “Since those fluids could contain viral particles if the racer releasing them is infected, runners should not spit or blow their noses into the air, he said, and steer clear of any racers who do not comply.”
A Runner’s World article by Jordan Smith gave guidelines for runners. Heather Milton, M.S., exercise physiologist supervisor at NYU Langone Health’s Sports Performance Center, was reported as having said “even when you’re wearing a mask, it’s important to also keep a big distance between yourself and others—both factors are important when it comes to prevention of infection. Wearing a mask is not a substitute for social distancing.” She warned that “universal masking would help prevent the spread of the virus, but that is likely not realistic that all runners will adhere to that during the length of a race.”
The perception that might be created by this marathon that things are getting back to normal in T-Town, by holding a race in March where runners wear no masks, may have the same effect as the optimistic newspaper pandemic headlines. In a town where there was a notorious celebration on The Strip, that would be the last thing that the doctor would order.