In April, 2021, the Franklin Stove Blog reported, “There was a legitimate concern about public safety in T-Town, with thousands of unvaccinated University students no longer wearing masks.”
The same concerns remained about the impending 2021 Fall semester at the University of Alabama. Any hopes that vaccinations would have altered the situation had been ill-founded.
The idea that the state of Alabama would acquire immunity by May, 2021, as Dr. Suzanne Judd had speculated in February 2021, proved to be overly optimistic. Judd, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s (UAB) School of Public Health, in a July, 2021, Yahoo Finance interview, said that “likelihood of reaching herd immunity at this point is fairly low.” She attributed this to low levels of statewide vaccinations and Covid-19 variants.
The Associated Press reported on July 20, 2021, that “Alabama is suffering a ‘self-inflicted wound’ from COVID-19, with hospitals again filling up as the state trails the nation in vaccinations and pandemic precautions like face masks and social distancing are all but forgotten, a health leader said Tuesday.” Dr. Donald Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, characterized the Covid pandemic as the “plague of our generation.”
Alabama Political Reporter‘s Micah Danney reported the concerns over the low vaccination rates that Selwyn Vickers, senior vice president and dean of the UAB School of Medicine and chair of the UA System Health and Safety Task Force, had. She wrote, “Vickers noted that Alabama is not allowing the mandating of vaccines. The state passed a law prohibiting vaccine passports in May, although it does not spell out any penalties if the law is violated.”
Isabel Hope wrote in the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White that some of the severest critics of the University’s plan to reopen were students. In the University’s planned return to “pre-pandemic” conditions, “social distancing, classroom capacities, reentry testing, sentinel testing and masks — except in clinical settings — are no longer required.”
Hope reported that the mother of a Junior at the University called the plans “a recipe for disaster.” Students who had been Freshmen, when the University took steps to mitigate infections in 2020, were very concerned. Sophomore Sean Atchison worried about “the consequences that the lack of restrictions will have on the surrounding community.” He said that “the University owes it to Tuscaloosa to take precautions that protect their well-being.” Sophomore Keyara Baker said that under the University’s plan that “students are being allowed to do absolutely anything.”
Another Sophomore Sawyer Knight, who had been vaccinated, didn’t “understand the need for regulations.” Dianne Bragg, an associate professor in the department of journalism and creative media, said that students shouldn’t solely be blamed. “When you’re young, there’s just that kind of attitude of ‘It’s not going to happen to me. I’m going to be okay. If I got it, that’d be fine.’ I wish the students would take it more seriously, but when they look at adults and leadership not taking it seriously, what do we expect?”
While a large number of students at the University as a whole were not fully vaccinated, head football coach Nick Saban told the media that about 90% of his players were vaccinated. AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande explained that Saban informed his players about the consequences of not having vaccinations. Casagrande quoted Saban‘s admonition to his players. “Players have to understand that you are putting your teammates in a circumstance and situation. We can control what you do in our building. We cannot control what you do on campus and when you go around town, who you’re around, who you’re associated with, and what you bring into our building.”
In an interview on the podcast Outbreak Alabama: Stories From A Pandemic, Dr. Michael Saag, director of the Division of Infectious Disease at UAB, expressed his frustration. AL.com‘s Ben Flanagan reported on Saag‘s comments:
I think I can speak for all the physicians I work with and say that we’re all doing the best we can. I can also say we’re all working with the best of intentions. That said, for me personally, I’ve never been as frustrated professionally as I am right now. I had hoped and prayed for a successful vaccine and was frankly surprised when the vaccine showed its efficacy to the degree that it is and its safety. And I thought, my goodness, there’s a Christmas miracle if we’ve ever seen one in our lifetime. It actually happened. And then to have it not available initially and people clamoring, but finally getting it delivered in sufficient quantities to vaccinate everyone in the United States. And to my surprise and horror, people are not lining up to get the vaccine that’s offered to them free and that works extraordinarily well. People are choosing to remain in harm’s way, but worse, when they get infected, they put people who are vaccinated at risk, at least those who are immunocompromised who could get very sick from this.
Saag also warned about the dangers of going to football games:
A lot of the decision-making for this fall, especially with regard to football stadiums and getting back to life as a semblance of normal, was based on the assumption that the vast majority of citizens would be vaccinated. That’s not happened, to a lot of people’s surprise including me. It’s not rocket science. If you put a lot of people in a space, even if it’s outdoors, packed in next to one another and the majority of those people are not vaccinated…if you’re sitting next to someone who’s infected and they’re yelling and screaming like people do at a football game, they’re spewing virus into the environment and almost certainly it’s going to be a Delta variant, which means all you have to do is breathe in that air for about a minute and you’re going to walk away from that football game infected if you’re not vaccinated. This is just common sense and logic.
If you’re not vaccinated, you’re basically putting yourself in harm’s way in a major way because many of the people at the game or whatever location are just like you, unvaccinated. And the odds are pretty high with the numbers rising right now that out of 25 people, at least one would be infected at that moment in time. So you divide 25 into the number of people at the game, and you’re going to have hundreds of people who are going to be infected at the game at any moment in time, spreading virus to the people who are not vaccinated. It’s going to be an interesting fallout that is unfortunate because people are not getting vaccinated. Totally preventable. Totally. And yet, we’re not heeding the warnings.
A Facebook post by Alabama’s Dr. Brytney Cobia was all over the internet, as reported by USAToday‘s John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz. Dr. Cobia posted about treating young people for Covid. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”
When students at the University “are being allowed to do absolutely anything,” will a number of them end up like Dr. Cobia‘s patients? How will the “Bama Covid Experience” impact T-Town for that matter?