In May, 2020 a FranklinStoveBlog post “A Bama Covid Experience” dealt with how the University of Alabama would reopen in August, 2020.
A national public heath emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic had been declared in February 2020.
In March University of Alabama President Dr. Stuart R. Bell announced that the University had a Spring semester completion plan, which included no further person-to-person classroom instruction. Students were told not to return to the campus after Spring Break. The plan stated that:
Residence halls and Greek residential houses are closed. Recreation facilities are also closed. Dining halls, food courts, libraries and other services will not be readily available.
In order to provide for further social distancing, a staggered plan to retrieve your belongings from the residence halls and Greek houses is being developed and will be communicated at a later date. Students are not authorized to return to campus outside of this plan and any who show up without authorization will not be accommodated.
After the Spring semester had ended, there were unsubstantiated rumors of Covid parties that students participated in during the summer of 2020. There had been, as a consequence, a good deal of uncertainty about what it would be like when thousands of students returned to campus.
In the Fall of 2020, “every student and employee was required to be tested for COVID-19 and receive a negative result before returning to campus for the fall semester or participating in any campus activity.” Less than 1% had positive results out of the 25,000 University of Alabama students who had been tested as of August 16th. Many T-Town residents were relieved by such low figures.
But after classes resumed on August 19th, there was an an explosion of Coronavirus cases. CNN reported that “more than 1,000 students at the University of Alabama have tested positive for Covid-19 since classes resumed on the Tuscaloosa campus less than two weeks ago.”
On August 24th, there had been a two week closure of bars in Tuscaloosa. Montgomery Advertiser‘s Melissa Brown reported, that in less than 72 hours after school had resumed classes, the University’s President Stuart Bell announced that he was “deeply disappointed” in student behavior. Bell issued new campus directives that restricted student behavior.
Football games were played in Bryant Denny Stadium with a reduced seating capacity along with mask requirements. Other sports events were held under similar conditions.
A proposed Kappa Delta Farm Party was cancelled in November 2020, due to concerns about Covid-19.
The University conducted a Sentinel Testing program which involved the random sampling of all asymptomatic students, faculty and staff. (Other schools frequently tested all students on a mandatory basis.) A March 2021 article by Meghan Schiano in the University’s student newspaper The Crimson White reported that there had been “a record low number of COVID-19 cases among employees […] and another week of low student cases.”
An article in the Crimson White by Javon Williams provided information on the upcoming 2021 Fall Semester at the University. He reported that students returning to the campus would not be tested. There would be person to person instruction, without classroom occupancy limits. No mask requirements were planned for the Fall. The football stadium would be full. Williams wrote:
A transition to remote learning after last year’s spring break marked the beginning of more than a year of lasting impact. Now, as the statewide mask mandate has been lifted and vaccines become available for students, faculty and staff, the University is adapting its safety policies.
KMIZ/ABC17‘s Meghan Drakas was among the many who have reported that some colleges may require that students be vaccinated. She said, “Colleges and universities across the county have started to announce coronavirus vaccine mandates for students attending classes.”
Kaiser Health News reported:
The number of colleges and universities that will require students be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 is suddenly escalating. In just the last few days, Duke University, Brown, Northeastern University, the University of Notre Dame, Syracuse University and Ithaca College all announced that students returning to campus in the fall must be fully vaccinated before the first day of class.
Every year, colleges across the country require students to get vaccinations for diseases such as Measles and Tetanus. Now, one year into the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines against the virus are becoming available for college-age students.
In April, 2021, only 15% of the residents of Tuscaloosa County were reported by USAToday to have been fully vaccinated. Herd immunity was thought to achievable only when 75-80% of the population had been vaccinated. (UAB‘s Dr. Suzanne Judd‘s idea of achieving herd immunity in May, 2021, was considered to be wildly optimistic. But more recently she elaborated on her position. See comments below.) T-Town has a population of over 100,000. There are approximately 30,000 university students living in the community. Even in the unlikely scenario that 75-80% percent of its permanent residents are vaccinated, there will potentially be tens of thousands of student residents from throughout the country and world who are not vaccinated.
There was a legitimate concern about public safety in T-Town, with thousands of unvaccinated University students no longer wearing masks and gatherings such as the Farm Party becoming commonplace. Many people in T-Town were apprehensive about just what the new iteration of Bama Covid experience would be like.