President Donald J Trump in April of 2020, during a covid task force address in the early days of the nation’s response to the pandemic, mentioned Bryant Denny Stadium. In AL.com‘s Leada Gore‘s article “Alabama football mentioned during Trump coronavirus update: ‘We want 110,000 people there’, he said” Trump was quoted:
“Our normal is if you have 100,00 people in an Alabama football game or 110,000 to be specific,” Trump said. “Normal” is not going to be a game where you have 50,000. We want 110,000 people there. We want every seat occupied. Normal is not going to be a game where we have 50,000” people.
President Trump no longer occupies the White House. But he must be overjoyed that the University of Alabama‘s Athletic Director Greg Byrne has said that he expects a full-capacity crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the fall. Sports Illustrated reported that Bryne Tweeted about the stadium capacity after the University of Alabama had revealed its plans to resume in-person class “without restrictions” in the fall 2021 semester.
The Yellowhammer News reported in May, 2020, that Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John IV had been part of “an exclusive national group for a discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and other key Trump administration officials on how to best get Americans safely back to school in the fall.” The University of Alabama in 2020 took major steps in response to Covid-19 that altered campus life. The new normal in 2021 has reset the game.
Mark Hughes Cobb in the Tuscaloosa News wrote that “University of Alabama students will return to traditional in-classroom instruction for fall 2021, following models that predict COVID-19 herd immunity will be achieved by late spring or early summer.”
Cobb reported that Charlie Taylor, director of operations for the UA System Health and Safety Task Force, said that the decision to resume in-person classes was based on information that the University Of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) had put forward. Taylor said, “UAB projects we hit herd immunity — which means 72 percent of the population — by end of May or early summer.”
UAB epidemiologist Dr. Suzanne Judd was among the first who have said that herd immunity was imminent. The Gadsden Times‘ Donna Thornton wrote that Dr. Judd said that “more people have antibodies for COVID-19 than tested positive for the virus.” She claimed that, along with those who had been vaccinated, the numbers of those infected already and immune might constitute herd immunity.
Dr Judd also said that public health precautions of mask-wearing, social distancing and frequent hand washing should continue. She also warned that it is not known whether people who are vaccinated still can transmit the virus if exposed.
Other epidemiologists have different ideas about herd immunity. 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.”
CNN‘s Deidre McPhillips wrote a lengthy article about the prospects of the United States achieving herd immunity. There were varying projections. One thing that can be certain is that there is no agreement among the experts.
Jessica Malaty Rivera, science communications lead at the COVID Tracking Project, said. “Herd immunity can only be discussed in the context of mass vaccination. I’m on the more conservative side and very hesitant to claim that natural immunity is causing a meaningful difference in these numbers. We really need to be vaccinating at least 70% of the population. That seems potentially possible by the end of the year if there are no significant bottlenecks in production or delivery.”
In Phillips’ article Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation commented on the threat of Covid-19 variants, “There isn’t a very clear route to herd immunity if those variants spread, and it’s a very tricky business trying to predict at what pace they’ll spread.”
The New York Time‘s Anemona Hartocollis wrote about how schools have been impacted by the pandemic:
Colleges and universities across the country are pledging to reopen more fully in the fall, with some administrators worried that students won’t return to campus if normality, or some semblance of it, isn’t restored by September.
Schools from large state institutions to small private ones have announced they are laying plans to bring students back to dormitories, deploy professors to teach most (if not all) classes in person and restart extracurricular activities, in stark contrast to the past academic year of largely virtual courses and limited social contact. The announcements of these changes coincide with the sending of acceptance letters to the class of 2025.
Some schools have taken a financial hit because of deferred admissions or lost room-and-board fees.
More than 120,000 coronavirus cases have been linked to American colleges and universities since Jan. 1, and more than 530,000 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times survey. The Times has identified more than 100 deaths, but the vast majority involved employees, not students.
In his article in The Tuscaloosa News, Cobb quoted the University of Alabama‘s Charlie Taylor: “Enrollment (numbers were) not a consideration. This decision was made based on what is safe, and in the best interest of our students.”
As the UAB‘s Dr. Judd has cautioned, mask wearing and social distancing will be required for the foreseeable future. How social distancing will be accomplished in crowded classrooms or in a packed stadium should be a concern. There are also different ideas about when “herd immunity” will come into play.
Certainly Donald J Trump‘s idea of normal may be realized when football games begin again in Bryant Denny Stadium. But will that kind of normal be what the doctor ordered for T-Town?