Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox had been granted executive powers that gave him the authority to regulate bars and restaurants in 2020, as Jason Morton reported in the Tuscaloosa News. The orders were justified because of a growing surge in coronavirus cases in the community. On August 24, 2020, a fourteen day closure of bars was even mandated by the city.
Had an April 5, 2021, Early Release by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) been available, it might have helped Maddox make his case in 2020. The report “Community Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Associated with a Local Bar Opening Event” concerned a case study of a bar that had opened in Illinois. The report said:
Forty-six cases of COVID-19 were linked to an indoor bar opening event that occurred during February 2021 in a rural Illinois county. Event patrons were linked to secondary cases among household, long-term care facility, and school contacts, resulting in one hospitalization and one school closure affecting 650 students.
Bars can play a role in community spread of COVID-19 because of limited mask use while eating or drinking and lack of consistent physical distancing. These findings show that SARS-CoV-transmission originating in a business such as a bar not only affects the patrons and employees of the bar but can also affect an entire community. As community businesses begin to reopen, considering additional prevention measures is important, such as limiting building occupancy levels and improving ventilation, especially in locations where consistent and correct mask wearing and physical distancing are difficult to enforce. Businesses can work with local health officials to promote behaviors and maintain environments that reduce the risk for SARS-CoV-2 transmission and develop strategies for reopening safely to prevent outbreaks in the community, such as modifying layouts and operating procedures.
Bars have certainly played an important role in Tuscaloosa’s “experience economy.” After bars had been closed for fourteen days, the city instituted a bar bailout. As reported by by CBSNews19‘s Tim Reid, “the City Council passed a resolution to give $400,000 to 29 bar owners.” Keeping bars open was a high priority for the city.
Because the city was unable to enforce social distancing in bars, it established occupancy limits. The inability of the city to enforce social distancing and mask wearing created incidents such as the one at Rhythm & Brews, where a post on social media by the band Velcro Pygmies exposed the lack of enforcement.
In the Fall, there may be a reopening of Bryant-Denny Stadium with full capacity crowds. University of Alabama football games have traditionally drawn over 100,000 fans to T-Town and filled its hotels, bars and restaurants. The Crimson Tide football season has been a veritable gold mine for the economy of Tuscaloosa.
An April article in the Conversation about the transmission of the Coronavirus at NFL events by Alex R. Piquero and Justin Kurland said that “where teams had 20,000 fans or more at games, there were more than twice as many COVID-19 cases in the three weeks after games compared to counties with other teams. The case rate per 100,000 residents was also twice as high.” The article said that the decisions about limits on stadium capacity had been made with “minimal data about the heightened risk that players and fans face of getting COVID-19 at stadiums or arenas and spreading it in the community.”
Jason Morton‘s April, 6, 2021, article in the Tuscaloosa News “Mayor Walt Maddox: Time Is Right To Rescind COVID_19 Executive Powers” said that the “Tuscaloosa City Council is expected to vote to rescind the executive powers granted to Mayor Walt Maddox to speed the response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The first death of a University of Alabama student that was related to Covid-19 had just recently shocked T-Town. Leah Goggins reported on the death of super fan Cameron Luke Ratliffin in the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White: “The University of Alabama, which topped charts for campus infections in the fall, has not publicly reported any COVID-19-related deaths among students.”
CNN‘s Christina Maxouris wrote about a highly contagious and deadly Covid variant where “the people most affected now are the younger individuals.” Maxouris reported that Dr. Leana Wen had said, “We’re seeing in places like Michigan that the people who are now getting hospitalized by large numbers are people in their 30s and 40s. And now we’re even seeing children getting infected in larger numbers, too.” She wrote that: “In Florida’s Orange County, officials reported late last month a rise in Covid-19 cases in the 18-25 age group.”
Other communities were experiencing dramatic spikes in Covid cases, many of which had been attributed to large gatherings of college students who were not observing Covid safety precautions, as reported by InsideHigherEd.com. Hopefully Mayor Maddox’s decision to end the city’s extraordinary powers to cope with the pandemic in April was made at the right time for T-Town.