Alcohol & Denial in the time of Covid-19

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In spite of the pandemic’s restrictions on “normal” college life, a recent hazing incident at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) shows that perhaps things haven’t changed that much. Admittedly there are certainly not as many reported cases of hazing these days.

A BGSU student was being kept on life support “following an alleged hazing incident involving alcohol” until his organs could be harvested, as The Hill‘s Celine Castronuovo reported. The alleged hazing took place at the school’s Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity house.

WTOL-11‘s Emma Henderson interviewed a BGSU student who recounted how his roommate was violently sick after returning from a PIKE pledge party

“We have to drink a handle of any alcohol that our big gives us. We have to finish the whole thing in the time we’re there before we leave. I’ve never seen my roommate more drunk in his entire life, he immediately went to the bathroom and was throwing up in the toilet for just 15 minutes to an hour and making himself vomit.”

“It’s crazy to me that they can allow this deathly and neglectful drinking to go on. I think it’s incredible to me that they try to hide themselves behind this organization.”

The use of alcohol by students could have a disastrous impact on any attempts to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.

KDRV-12 warned that this year’s Spring Break could be a “perfect storm” for spreading the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine commented on the potential for a superspreader event at beaches that were popular with students.

You’ve got the B.1.1.7 variant accelerating in Florida. You’ve got all these 20-year-old kids. None of them are going to have masks. They’re all going to be drinking. They’re having pretty close, intimate contact. And then, after that’s all done, they’re going to go back to their home states and spread the B.1.1.7 variant.’

Attempts to physically distance and wear masks typically go out the window at parties where alcohol is involved.

It’s not just that drinking makes people take off their masks (if they’re wearing one at all). Alcohol can cause people to get closer to one another than usual, Hotez said.

That’s especially dangerous this spring break, when revelers at popular hot spots may not just be exposed to students from across the country — they could also be exposed to variants or outbreaks from those parts of the country as well.

So this is not the time to have a superspreader event for that UK variant, which is what spring break in Florida would look like,’ Hotez said.

‘This is not the time to be sending a bunch of 20-year-olds to Florida, then sending them back, disseminating it across the country.’

Susannah Bryan, who writes for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, reported on problems during the Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She spoke with Davenport University‘s 21-year-old Jack Gumeinny, who said, “Florida hasn’t skipped a beat.” She wrote:

Gumeinny, a junior at Davenport University, shrugged at the lack of social distancing.

“We’re not in the at-risk group,” he said.

Gumeinny said he and his buddies planned to head to a strip club in between bar hopping. On Thursday, they partied at Café Ibiza on A1A, surrounded by a crowd of maskless coeds dancing to the loudest music on the block.

Bryan reported that Broward Mayor Steve Geller was very upset about the lack of code enforcement.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Geller said. “I’m not opposed to college kids having fun — just not in the middle of a pandemic. We will take action” if Fort Lauderdale doesn’t.

But Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis insisted that most people were obeying the rules. He was quoted as having said, “I think people should spend more time focusing than trying to play gotcha with other people visiting our community.”

Many politicians, who favor reopening their communities, have been quick to say that deaths from and the number of cases of COVID-19 have been declining. In Axios, Bryan Walsh wrote that “Daily COVID-19 tests in the U.S. have declined by more than a quarter since mid-January.” But he pointed out that the pandemic is “far from finished.” He explained that to some extent positive cases weren’t being looked at because of vaccinations. Instead the emphasis was on “verifying constantly that those who were vaccinated or were negative before are still negative,” according to Tony Lemmo, the CEO of the diagnostics equipment company BioDot.

The fact that 43,000 people in Texas had died due to COVID-19 apparently did not make a lot of difference to its Governor Greg Abbott, who relaxed public safety orders in the Lone Star state. The Texas Tribune‘s Shannon Najmabadi spoke with Delia Ramos whose husband had died due to the Coronavirus. Ramos disagreed with Abbott’s lifting of the mask order. Najmabadi reported on Ramos‘ concerns:

“People can go pick up groceries, people can go into a restaurant and people can shop around the mall in masks.” It feels like people that think it’s “inconvenient to wear a mask” override all the “people that have been lost” to the virus, as well as doctors and nurses working long hours and teachers scared to go to work for fear of being exposed.”

Orange Beach, Alabama, did not want to become a “MTV destination.” Al.com‘s John Sharp reported:

Gulf Shores has banned alcohol on its beaches for the past six years during Spring Break. Now Orange Beach is outright closing a beach during the break.

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said the beach’s spring closures could become a springtime tradition in order to create a “sanctuary city for families” and to “eliminate an MTV destination.”

“We’ve eliminated that area so we don’t have all of these spring breakers sowing mischief,” said Kennon.

Kennon said the decision to close the beach “is absolutely about Spring Break” and less about the coronavirus pandemic.

The use of alcohol during a pandemic, particularly by young people many of whom tend to binge drink, inevitably leads to the spread of COVID-19.

Alabama‘s Governor Ivy extended the state’s mask order to April 9. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been highly critical of states which have lifted mask wearing orders. Carlie Porterfield in Forbes wrote that Fauci has said that such “premature” actions during a coronavirus pandemic will likely lead to another surge of new coronavirus cases.

If mask wearing in T-Town diminishes, there may a reversal of any progress in combating the virus. The state has also increased the number of people who may occupy tables in bars and restaurants. Both lack of mask wearing and inadequate social distancing are a formula for disaster.

The University of Alabama‘s classes end on April 23 but exams will be conducted until the 30th.

If there is any outbreak of Coronavirus in April on campus due to the state’s decision to no longer maintain a mask order, it may well not be fully reported. Asymptomatic students may return to their hometowns, bearing an unwanted house guest.

When the University convenes in the Fall, are there plans to revert to “normal” conditions on campus? Will the same pre-entry testing that occurred last year be required when there were over 2,000 cases reported–at the time more than more than the total cases in 35 states?

The idea that life will revert to “normal” in T-Town anytime soon may well be only a pipe dream, as fervently as it is wished for by many people.

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2 thoughts on “Alcohol & Denial in the time of Covid-19

  1. The University of Alabama cancelled its Spring Break. The University of California Davis offered $75 in cash to students who would stay on campus. “Those who choose to travel out of state will have to quarantine for 10 days after returning, per California guidelines, and the university recommends that students get tested every three to four days before and after their trip. The aim is to catch nonsymptomatic students and to keep the campus safe.”

  2. An article by Chris Quintana “Two fraternity deaths in two months. COVID-19 didn’t stop hazing – it hid it away from ‘watchful eyes'” in USA TODAY also raised the issue about the impact of COVID on at least the reporting of hazing incidents.

    “For the past several decades, a college student has died every year while trying to prove his place among his peers. More often than not, these young men have been pushed to drink large amounts of alcohol, or to brave some enervating physical trial. Sometimes, both are true.

    “2020, though, was different. There wasn’t a hazing death, at least one that has been reported (Such cases may not come to light until years given the secrecy of these groups.)

    “The coronavirus pandemic shuttered many of the traditional recruiting and social activities common to the Greek Life experience. Close observers of Greek Life also said social distancing rules may have helped to prevent serious cases, but they didn’t solve the underlying problem. Experts and close observers in the field say the conditions are ripe to see a resurgence of hazing behavior and alcohol abuse from these groups, especially as students start to return to campuses across the country next fall.”

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