The Bama Covid Experience 2021 Redux

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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?

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“Bringing a small city back to a geospatial region…”

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William Tate IV, the new President of Louisiana State University (LSU), expressed concern over the low vaccination rate among LSU students.

The Advocate‘s Andrea Gallo wrote:

Tate […] said that LSU’s coronavirus vaccination rate among students of 26% is nowhere near as high as it needs to be. He warned of effects to the broader community if more students don’t get vaccinated.

“Let’s be clear about it: that number is not good,” Tate said. “Literally, we’re bringing a small city back to this geospatial region, and that small city is a vector.” [emphasis added]

Around 73% of LSU faculty members and more than 50% of staff members have received the vaccine, and LSU’s Faculty Senate has pushed to require mandatory coronavirus vaccinations this fall for students. LSU’s Board of Supervisors voted last month to urge the Louisiana Department of Health to add coronavirus vaccines to their schedule of required immunizations to attend Louisiana public schools.

Indeed, in towns such as Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa where LSU and the University of Alabama are located, students comprise a significant number of their total populations. It is not an exaggeration that student bodies are the equivalent of a “small city.”

In the case of other schools, such as at the Santa Barbara City College, faculty members are concerned about the failure of schools to mandate student vaccinations. The Santa Barbara Independent‘s Delaney Smith reported on the concerns of the college’s Academic Senate and Faculty Association. She wrote that dozens of faculty members were asking that “their in-person classes scheduled this fall are moved back online.”

CNN‘s Madeline Holcombe wrote that the Delta Variant was a “more transmissible and possibly more dangerous strain of coronavirus.” She reported that, “Parts of the South, Southwest and Midwest are starting to see spikes in cases, and many of those states — such as Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — are among those with the lowest rates of vaccination, according to the CDC.”

An Associated Press article reported that the Alabama Department of Public Health‘s Dr. Scott Harris said that the state of Alabama had inadequate testing for the Delta Variant. The article reported that “about one-third of Alabama’s counties, including most of the state’s heavily populated areas, are at very high risk for COVID-19 as vaccination rates continue to lag.”

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had announced in May that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that in states with low vaccination rates that masking could still be necessary. He said on Meet The Press that he would “go the extra mile to be cautious enough to make sure that I get the extra added level of protection,” as reported in the New York Times.

Many Alabamians haven’t been vaccinated due to political leanings, but as reported by The Conversation‘s Elisa J. Sobo, Diana Schow and Stephanie McClure, a “vaccine ambivalence” may also be a factor. They wrote:

Some participants who view COVID-19 as a significant health threat believe the vaccine poses an equivalent risk. We saw this particularly among African Americans in Alabama – not necessarily surprising given that the health care system has not always had these communities’ best interests at heart. The perceived conundrum leaves people stuck on the fence. Given the legacy of unequal treatment in communities of color, when balancing the ‘known’ of COVID-19 against the unknown of vaccination, their inaction may seem reasonable – especially when coupled with mask-wearing and social distancing.

On July 6, 2021, USA Today reported that “Andy Slavitt, who in early June ended his run as senior adviser to the White House for COVID response, told CNN on Tuesday that he expects the Pfizer vaccine to be approved in four to five weeks, followed shortly afterward by the Moderna inoculation.”

Any objections to requiring mandatory vaccinations at schools such as the University of Alabama because of the emergency status of vaccines should soon be a moot point.

T-Town in the Fall, when a small city will return to its geo-spatial region, would be far better protected from Covid-19 outbreaks if University of Alabama students were vaccinated, regardless of any vaccine hesitancy that its permanent residents may have had.

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Don’t think of it as a bridge…

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The Hugh Rowe Thomas Bridge is a six-lane bridge that spans the Black Warrior River, connecting the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport, Alabama. Wikipedia described it in this way: “The bridge is split in Tuscaloosa to accommodate two major, one-way thoroughfares (Lurleen Wallace Boulevard North and South), before joining together heading towards Northport.”

Drivers who live in the area have grown accustomed to the fact that the speed limit on the bridge is ten miles per hour higher than that of the rest of Lurleen Wallace Boulevard in the vicinity. The speed limit on the bridge is 55 MPH, whereas it is 45 MPH on either side of it.

The cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport passed ordinances establishing the speed limit on their respective sides of the bridge, based on the recommendation of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). Each city has jurisdiction over its side of the bridge.

A driver, who is not familiar with the fact that the 55 MPH speed limit on the short length of the bridge area will revert to 45 MPH, might well assume that the increase in the speed limit that begins with the bridge portends an overall higher speed limit.

When asked if it were unusual for the speed limit on a bridge to be higher than that of the road leading to it, an ALDOT engineer, responsible for Transportation Systems Management & Operations, said that the bridge should be considered just as a continuation of the roadway.

When the city of Tuscaloosa in 2021 received an inquiry about the higher speed limit of the bridge, it requested that ALDOT do a speed study.

Such a speed study is based on two factors, involving (1) the 85 percentile method and (2) vertical and horizontal concerns. The 85th percentile speed, as explained by Charles Marohn, “is the speed at or below which 85 percent of the drivers will operate with open roads and favorable conditions. The assumption underlying the 85th percentile speed is that most drivers will operate their vehicle at speeds they perceive to be safe. Speed limits set above or below the 85th percentile speed will create unsafe conditions due to speed differential as some drivers adhere strictly to the law while others drive the naturally-induced speed.”

The ALDOT speed study showed that drivers traveled at varied speeds on the bridge at different times of day. The speed at which they drove was of course to some extent determined by the volume of the traffic on the bridge.

The study began on on April, 20, 2021
It ended on April 21, 2021

The horizontal and vertical design of a roadway involves such things as how fast a driver can drive on a curve.

Based on the 2021 ALDOT speed study, a recommendation was made to the city to let the bridge speed limit remain at 55 MPH, instead of lowering it to the speed limit of 45 MPH that existed on either side of the bridge.

On the side of the bridge that Tuscaloosa has jurisdiction over, the bridge abruptly ends at University Boulevard. There is a traffic light at the intersection that is not visible to drivers until they go over a rise in the bridge. Signage that is placed before the rise warns of an upcoming change in the speed limit. Drivers who sufficiently slow down will be prepared to stop at a red traffic light. At one time there was a “red light camera” at the intersection that recorded drivers who failed to stop. The 45 MPH signage for Lurleen Wallace Boulevard is also easily seen.

On the side of the bridge that is under Northport jurisdiction, a 55 MPH sign is placed at the very beginning of the bridge. Midway on the bridge similar signs have been located. The signage located off of the bridge, that indicates a reduced speed, is less visible than that of the signs on the bridge. An out of town driver who is crossing the bridge, after driving through downtown Tuscaloosa, might well assume that 55 MPH would still be the speed limit if the signage that is off the road were not seen.

When the concrete bridge becomes icy appropriate warnings are posted, although during the winter there are more accidents on the bridge. Southern drivers don’t see a lot of snow and ice.

There may possibly be other bridges where the speed limit exceeds that of the roads leading to them. But the Hugh Thomas Bridge in T-Town is certainly notable for such an enigmatic circumstance.

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Delta Dawn

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“The Delta variant, a strain of Covid-19 believed to be more transmissible and dangerous than others, is likely to break out in some US communities,” CNN‘s Madeline Holcombe reported. Parts of the country with low vaccination rates and low rates of prior infections were most likely to be affected according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.

Alabama fits that description.

Alison Durkee reported in Forbes that according to the the World Health Organization (WHO) fully vaccinated people were advised to maintain social distancing and continue to wear masks because of the threat of the highly infectious Delta variant. Durkee wrote:

“Us[ing] masks consistently” and following other social distancing measures like avoiding crowds, hand washing and being in well-ventilated spaces is “extremely important, even if you’re vaccinated,” Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, said, warning, “Vaccines alone won’t stop the community transmission.”

The Gothamist‘s Nsikan Akpan wrote that the Delta variant was a concern to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, with those who are unvaccinated having “the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill.”

A spokesman for Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivy responded to the WHO warning, as reported by AL.com‘s Sarah Whites-Koditschek, in this way:

“Since she is fully vaccinated and has total confidence in the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Ivey no longer wears her mask.”

White’s Koditshek wrote that the state of Alabama would follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. She added:

Alabama continues to trail the nation with 32.4 percent of residents fully vaccinated, ahead of only Mississippi, according to CDC figures as of Monday.

The CDC guidelines required that unvaccinated people continue to be masked when they are indoors, as grocery stores in T-Town have posted. However in many places, likely including City Hall, masks were not being worn, regardless of the vaccination status of those who were indoors.

FiveThirtyEight‘s Angelica Puzio explained that often “traditional masculinity gets in the way of health-promoting behaviors,” such as becoming vaccinated or wearing masks. She wrote that “men who conform to traditional masculine norms have lower levels of empathy toward people who are vulnerable to COVID-19, and they are less likely to trust the scientific community.” Women were far more likely to make sound health decisions. Puzio wrote:

Jennifer Reich, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver who has studied vaccination behavior for more than a decade, told me that women were more used to making decisions about their own health and the health of their families than men were.

[O]ne of the best ways to increase inoculation rates among those who are hesitant could be making vaccine information readily available in the places where trust already exists, such as churches or barber shops. Reich put it this way: “Often there are other community leaders, brokers of trust or allies that are influential to people beyond doctors. In many ways the solutions really have to educate and empower people in the community to understand information in ways that are accessible.”

Regardless of the impact of the new dangerous Delta variant, Covid vaccinations were vitally important to T-Town‘s public safety.

Perhaps some of the funds that Tuscaloosa was scheduled to receive from the American Rescue Fund Act could have been dedicated to a public relations campaign to promote community vaccinations. According to AL.com‘s John Sharp, there was even some thought on using the Covid relief funds on gun violence prevention. Vaccinations were certainly as important a public safety issue as gun violence.

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Masks off in T-Town?

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Publix and Walmart, among other stores, in T-Town had new signage about mask wearing. One such notice said that “Fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear face coverings. If you’re not fully vaccinated, help protect others by continuing to wear a face covering over your nose and mouth.” Such requests were in line with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

A staff report in the Tuscaloosa News reported that the University of Alabama had “modified some of the COVID-19 restrictions for summer commencement ceremonies.” Masks would no longer be required for fully vaccinated attendees. The university had not as yet mandated that its students be vaccinated so it would be highly probable that many unvaccinated graduating students would be complying by wearing masks.

As far as schools that require vaccinations are concerned, all colleges in Illinois could be added to the over 530 schools that will mandate that students will be vaccinated. NBC/5 reported that the mandated vaccinations were “in line with recommendations by the American College Health Association and follows vaccine mandates introduced at other Illinois higher education institutions including DePaul University, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.”

University Business published a list of schools that mandated vaccinations (as of June 23, 2021).

Cecilia Smith-Schoenwalder wrote in US News and World Report that “Vaccination rates have slowed among U.S. populations since mid-April, with the lowest coverage reported among young adults, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

CNN‘s Madeline Holcombe reported that people who had not been vaccinated were of higher risk of dying from Covid-19. She wrote:

Those still dying from Covid-19 in the US are “overwhelmingly” unvaccinated, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Fauci said he thinks a return to the high virus surges of 2020 is unlikely, but communities continuing to hold out against vaccination could experience localized surges as the summer continues.

Claudia Yaw reported in The Chronicle about a county in Washington state where fully vaccinated governmental staff members had been allowed to not wear masks. The employees were required to have proof of vaccination. The policy was in line with new Washington state Department of Labor and Industries guidance. “Proof of vaccination will be required from employees, although the county will not retain a copy of that medical document. Fully-vaccinated members of the public who remove their masks will not be asked for vaccination proof.”

City Hall in Tuscaloosa, unlike many stores in T-Town and the University of Alabama, had been complying only with state guidelines on mask wearing, which were not in alignment with CDC guidelines. The state’s mask mandate expired April 9, 2021. Alabama‘s latest COVID-19 public health order encouraged but did not require residents to wear masks when within 6 feet of someone from another household. Only a few Council members have acknowledged that they are fully vaccinated.

The 2021 college football season was scheduled to begin by the end of summer. There was no indication that Bryant-Denny Stadium‘s over 100,000 fans would have similar mask restrictions as those of the university’s summer commencement.

Alabama was 49th in the nation in vaccinations. Only Mississippi had fewer people who were fully vaccinated. The fact that Vietnamese immigrants are the most vaccinated people in Alabama was reported by AL.com‘s Sarah Whites-Koditschek. While 34% of Alabamians were fully vaccinated, 90% in the Vietnamese community living on the Gulf of Mexico had received vaccinations.

Some people in T-Town doubtlessly wished that more Crimson Tide fans were Vietnamese.

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Barricading the Square

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The City of Tuscaloosa came up with an idea on how to curtail violence in a downtown area called Temerson Square. During the pilot program, called “Summer In The Square,” city staff manned barricades would be be set up to close the area to vehicular traffic. The Tuscaloosa NewsJason Morton reported:

Following a shooting and a fatal hit-and-run in Temerson Square this spring, city officials vowed to take action in an attempt to quell any future violence.

[Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt] Maddox said Tuscaloosa Chief Brent Blankley has expressed concerns over motorists driving into, through or parking within Temerson Square and ‘causing problems.’

The barricading of the square from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. on the night of June 17, June 18 and June 19 coincided with the first concert of the season at the nearby Tuscaloosa Amphitheater on June 17th.

Ryan Phillips in The Patch wrote that “future tests could see the incorporation of bollards, which are metal or concrete barriers that can be used to temporarily block roadways.”

On May 11, 2021, Tuscaloosa city council member Lee Busby led a discussion on Bar Safety during a Special Called Council Public Safety meeting.

Busby said that there had been a “rash of incidents” at Temerson Square and “chaos” on The Strip. The area that has had the most problems with violence contains 40 bars.

He said that he had been discussing the situation with bar owners but this meeting was the “first migration of the discussion into the public arena.”

Among the things that had been discussed were the possibility of having more physical police presence in the area, allowing bars to hire off-duty uniformed Tuscaloosa Police Department officers for security, and changing the operating hours for the bars. Bars were allowed to stay open until 3am on Saturday nights and 2am during the rest of the week.

City attorney Scott Holmes said that there were liability issues involved in the use of uniformed TPD officers for security in bars.

There were concerns about parking resulting in a spillover into residential areas. Many incidents involving guns haven’t occurred in the bars. People have returned to their vehicles to access weapons after arguments have started at the bars.

Busby said that the type of musicians who are booked at bars might be problematic. He said that there seemed to be a “flash mob mentality” involving bars.

Busby said that an inordinate use of police resources in the bar intensive areas deprived other parts of town.

He said that the City Council approved the liquor licenses of bars but revoking a business license because of problems was much harder and could involve an appeal in court.

To many, barricading the Square or The Strip with bollards to make T-Town‘s “Entertainment District” safer might have seemed like a work around to avoid more effective measures.

Was the city so impotent that it could not regulate operating hours or the density of bars in violence prone areas? Apparently the city’s legal staff was hamstrung. The lack of local authority could be traced to the state constitution of Alabama.

Tom Spencer of The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama wrote that “the heavy involvement of state legislators in local affairs tends to create confusion about who is responsible for decision-making.”

Instead of being able to dampen down violence by regulating how bars were allowed to operate, in T-Town the first response had been to man the barricades.

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Covid Memorial Day 2021

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In February, 2021 the death toll from Covid-19 of over 500,000 in the United States was compared to all of the Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined. An Associated Press (AP) article said, “The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.” When this FSB post was written on Memorial Day 2021, 594,000 lives in the United States had been lost to Covid-19.

USAToday‘s Steven Vargas and Elinor Aspegren reported that for the holiday that “restrictions have been lifted at the nation’s cemeteries dedicated to veterans for vaccinated individuals.”

But many concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on the 2021 Memorial Day holiday had been expressed.

An USAToday article by Elinor Aspegren and Ryan W. Miller included this warning.

With coronavirus cases dropping and 50% of American adults fully vaccinated, Memorial Day weekend figures to be a test of whether the U.S. can avoid the spikes in infections and hospitalizations that occurred amid, and after, the winter holidays before vaccines were widely available. 

Suzanne Judd, epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health was interviewed by Yahoo!Finance. Judd said that by June 10th any consequences from the Memorial Day holiday would become evident.

That is the day. That’s where we’re going to know what happens from all these people getting together. If cases stay where they are– flat or decrease– that will tell us that we’re in good shape, that we may be nearing the end of this pandemic. The other alternative is that people aren’t jumping out of their houses to break out of the isolation they’ve been in. And I doubt that’s going to be the case, just given what we’re seeing already. People are starting to mix more. They’re going out. They’re going out to eat. And we know it’s a holiday weekend.

Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer in the Alabama Department of Public Health, bemoaned the lack of vaccinations in Alabama in an AP article. Landers said that, with only 28% of Alabamians fully vaccinated, “It’s very distressing because we have vaccine and we have it in every corner of Alabama.”

A Washington Post article by Dan Keating and Leslie Shapiro was reprinted by several newspapers, including The Day. Keating and Shapiro wrote, “The country’s declining COVID-19 case rates present an unrealistically optimistic perspective for half of the nation – the half that is still not vaccinated.”

The Washington Post reporters said that the “rosy national figures showing declining case numbers” were misleading. They wrote:

The adjusted rates in several states show the pandemic is spreading as fast among the unvaccinated as it did during the winter surge. Maine, Colorado, Rhode Island and Washington state all have covid-19 case spikes among the unvaccinated, with adjusted rates about double the adjusted national rate. The adjusted rates of Wyoming, West Virginia, Oregon, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania are slightly lower than the highest states.

They wrote that vaccines were about 90% effective in preventing cases among people who have received the shot but there had been a steady Covid-19 death rate among un-vaccinated people.

UniversityBusiness‘s Chris Burt reported about a new study from Seton Hall University about the concerns of college football fans about reopening stadiums at full capacity. Burt wrote that the University of Alabama was “among a confident group of institutions that have promised full capacity for athletic events in the fall.”

Burt added “in the states where they plan to host football games at their sizable stadiums – with upwards of 100,000 guests – none has more than 35% of their populations fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

A majority of the fans who participated in the study favored policies that include COVID-19 vaccination for entry. Social distancing, masking, and limiting attendance, as well as vaccination, would be considered necessary for a safe college football experience for fans.

During the college softball NCAA regional and super-regional games in May, 2021, at the University of Alabama‘s Rhoads Stadium the stadium was packed with 4,000 wildly cheering, unmasked fans. During the 2021 SEC Tournament, which had been held a week earlier, the stadium was at only 50% capacity, as reported by Bama Central’s Tyler Martin.

Of course, a full capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium would involve over 100,000 fans. By the time of the new football season in September, there should be little likelihood of having a significant number of fully vaccinated people in the state of Alabama. Of course fans will come from far and wide. Also vaccinations for students at the the university will not have been mandated.

An article in The Conservation by Sanjay Mishra was not optimistic about the efficiency of vaccinations in preventing the spread of Covid-19:

  • Vaccines can be great at preventing you from getting sick, while at the same time not necessarily stopping you from getting infected or spreading the germ.
  • Preliminary evidence seems to suggest the COVID-19 vaccines make it less likely someone who’s vaccinated will transmit the coronavirus, but the proof is not yet ironclad.
  • Unvaccinated people should still be diligent about mask-wearing, physical distancing and other precautions against the coronavirus.

Even if Mishra had been wrong about vaccinations, by the fall there should be a huge influx into T-Town of un-vaccinated people who will join its vaccine hesitant residents. Some may have felt that, since they have been vaccinated, any consequences of having huge numbers of un-vaccinated people in T-Town is not their concern. No matter what the aftermath of the Memorial Day weekend in May had been, the fall might be a time even more potentially fraught with the spreading of Covid-19.

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Let me see your ID?

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Ken Roberts had reported in the Tuscaloosa News that the University of Alabama had lifted face mask requirements for students, faculty and staff who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Roberts wrote:

All unvaccinated faculty, staff and students will still be required to wear face coverings inside all university buildings, according to UA’s announcement. Physical distancing of at least 3 feet will still be required.

There would be a record of anyone who had been vaccinated at the University Medical Center, but anyone getting vaccinations by other providers would need to report it to the university. The university had posted its latest status.

Other schools, such as Tulane, were trying incentives for vaccinations. Nola.com‘s Della Hasselle reported:

Tulane University, New Orleans’ largest private employer, is upping the game to convince workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by offering a $500 cash bonus to any full-time faculty or staff member who gets the vaccine by July 31.

Not long after the university’s announcement, Alabama‘s Governor Kay Ivy signed “legislation banning private business and public entities, including schools, from requiring proof of COVID vaccination to provide services,” as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser‘s Brian Lyman.

The idea of a “vaccine passport” was soundly rejected by most Alabama legislators. In his article, Lyman included the latest information on Alabama‘s rate of vaccinations:

The state still trails the rest of the country in COVID-19 vaccinations, despite pushed by Ivey and other officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 36% of Alabamians 18 and older have received at least one shot, compared to 49% nationwide. About 76% of adults 65 and older have received one shot, compared to 85% nationwide.

Axio‘s Margaret Talev wrote about a recent poll about the lack of trust that most American’s had in the honesty of others about their vaccination status. She reported:

Americans are taking off their masks…despite significant distrust over strangers’ honesty about their COVID-19 vaccination status and amid major confusion over Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on mask use and social distancing for those vaccinated.

According to CBS/42, Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris was concerned about the consequences of people not having been vaccinated during the Memorial Day weekend. CBS/42 reported:

Despite the availability, Alabama lags behind other states in fully vaccinating its residents. According to the latest numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health, just over 1.3 million Alabamians are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kay Ivey has ended the statewide mask mandate and just signed a law that prevents someone from having to show proof of vaccination or a so-called “vaccine passport.”

While Harris said he supports Ivey’s decisions, he knows that with the upcoming holiday weekend, people will be flocking together to celebrate.

“I think we’re asking Alabamians to please be responsible and do the right thing. I think most people will do that and we can expect there’s some people who won’t want to do that,” he said.

Short of some kind of vaccine passport, residents of Alabama would have to accept whether other people have been vaccinated on a “good faith” basis. In T-Town, there had been widespread use of fake IDs, even when there were significant penalties involved. With no penalties at all involved with someone lying about their vaccination status, people might be well concerned about whether someone who is not wearing a mask is among the 4.9 million Alabamians who are not fully vaccinated.

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You can talk about “herd immunity” until the cows come home

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It was widely reported that Alabama‘s State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris predicted that Alabama could reach “herd immunity” during the summer. WFSA/12‘s Lydia Nusbaum wrote:

Harris said Alabama could reach herd immunity by the summer depending on several factors. It depends on whether the state has the same level of vaccination as April and whether different variants continue to spread.

But there was a “catch.” The state really didn’t know what percentage of the population would have to be fully vaccinated to arrive at herd immunity.

The University of Alabama Birmingham‘s Dr. Suzanne Judd was quoted by Lauren Walsh in a ABC33/40 News report. Walsh wrote that “Dr. Judd stressed vaccinations are still important. We do not know how long immunity lasts for those who have had COVID.” Furthermore Walsh reported that Dr. Judd said that “vaccinating children will be critical for Alabama to reach herd immunity.”

Walsh wrote:

“If we count the people who have never had a positive test but have some level of immunity, then we would have reached herd immunity somewhere around May or June,” Dr. Judd said. “And we probably have, just looking at the fact that the cases are decreasing the way they are. The problem with only using that model is that those people may have- their immunity may fade.”

The duration of immunity for those who have had a Covid-19 infection is uncertain. And there have been cases of re-infection, according to Dr. Harris.

CNN‘s Holly Yan reported that “young adults are now steering the course of this pandemic as the biggest spreaders of coronavirus.” Yan wrote that “36% of young adults under age 35 say they don’t plan on getting a Covid-19 vaccine.” Without the vaccination of young adults herd immunity was considered to be unlikely.

The Montgomery Advertiser‘s Melissa Brown wrote that Alabama‘s Governor Kay Ivy had announced that the state’s coronavirus pandemic public health order and state of emergency would expire on July 6, 2021.

At the same time Al.com‘s Ramsey Archibald reported that Alabama could lose its unused doses of Covid-19 vaccine because of new guidelines from the federal government. Unused COVID-19 vaccine doses would be moved away from states with low demand into other areas. Archibald wrote:

Alabama had the nation’s second lowest vaccination rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less than 33 percent of Alabama’s population had gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

The Hill‘s Alexandra Kelley reported that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributed increasing new infections to new Covid variants. The CDC had concluded that a “best-case scenario” for controlling Covid-19 would involve high rates of vaccination and “compliance with [nonpharmaceutical interventions].” Kelley wrote:

Speaking to CNBC, Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, said that the U.S. needs to have 75 to 80 percent of all Americans vaccinated to see pre-pandemic normalcy.

“We can vaccinate our way out of this epidemic if all the adults and adolescents get vaccinated by summer,” he said. 

The CDC‘s May 5, 2021 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) said:

The rapid rollout of vaccination is having a positive impact on the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and reported disease nationally during April has been on the lower end of the scenario projections to date. However, multiple jurisdictions have seen a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and others likely will if NPI adherence declines too rapidly. Increases in deaths and hospitalizations could be more moderate because of prioritization of vaccination groups at high risk for COVID-19 but are still expected, particularly in locations with pronounced increases in transmission earlier during the vaccine rollout. These modeled scenarios show that ongoing efforts to continue to increase vaccination coverage and maintain physical distancing, masking, isolation, and quarantine are warranted. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and more data become available regarding factors affecting outbreak dynamics, future projections from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub can provide new and improved insights for public health response.

The idea that “herd immunity” would be possible under any conditions was disputed by many experts.

USAToday‘s Elizabeth Weise wrote an article “Is herd immunity to COVID-19 possible? Experts increasingly say no.” She reported:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, doesn’t want to talk about herd immunity anymore.

“Rather than concentrating on an elusive number, let’s get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can,” he said at a White House briefing last week, a sentiment he’s since repeated.

What Fauci doesn’t explicitly state, but others do, is that with about a quarter of Americans saying they might not want to be immunized, herd immunity is simply not an attainable goal.   

“It’s theoretically possible but we as a society have rejected that,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. “There is no eradication at this point, it’s off the table. The only thing we can talk about is control.”

With COVID-19, where vaccines are effective but won’t last a lifetime, vaccine hesitancy makes that kind of widespread protection unlikely, experts say.

That means people who can’t get vaccinated or whose immune systems are dampened by medication or disease will remain vulnerable. There will probably always be enough unvaccinated people to allow COVID-19 to spread once it arrives in a community.

Because of political attitudes towards vaccination, Weise wrote, “America could end up looking like a patchwork quilt, with areas where COVID-19 infections are low and others where the virus continues to thrive. The dangers of contracting COVID-19 are considerable. Among unvaccinated people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, about 20% will end up with severe disease, 5% will end up in intensive care and between 1% to 2% will die, according to CDC data.”

US News & World Report‘s Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder wrote that “the growing number of Americans protected from COVID-19 has returned focus to the idea of ‘herd immunity’ – a term some experts want to cast aside.”

Smith-Schoenwalder said that the problem of “vaccine hesitancy” complicated matters. She wrote that the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor had said that the “public’s enthusiasm for getting the shot may have reached a plateau.” She reported:

With cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the decline and over 40% of adults fully vaccinated, attention has returned to herd immunity – a concept that some experts would like to cast aside.

Herd immunity – or the point when enough people are protected from the virus that it cannot find new hosts to infect – has been a “counterproductive” term that has been “taken out of context by people who don’t understand the ins and outs of disease,” says Theo Vos of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Many universities and colleges were mandating that their students have Covid vaccinations before they returned to campus. Andy Thomason  and Brian O’Leary in The Chronicle of Higher Education listed 228 schools that mandated student vaccinations.

Harvard University is among them. NBC/10‘s Kaitlin McKinley Becker reported:

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow said in a message to the school community Wednesday that students should plan to be fully vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall semester — meaning that at least two weeks have passed since receiving the final dose.

In a joint message with Harvard’s provost, executive vice president and the health services executive director, Bacow said students are being required to get vaccinated against the virus in order to reach the high levels of vaccination needed to protect the school community as Harvard hopes to be able to offer a less restricted, robust on-campus experience for all students this fall.

Unfortunately many schools throughout the nation had no such plans. Florida‘s Governor Ron DeSantis even signed a bill banning the practice of requiring proof of inoculation to attend any school that received state funding. The Tampa Bay Time‘s Jeffrey S. Solochek wrote about how schools in the Sunshine State were coping with DeSantis’ actions.

Students at the University of Alabama, who constitute approximately 30,000 of T-Town‘s residents when the school is in session, as yet would not be required to be vaccinated. There were no final plans on Covid mitigation for August when the 2021 Fall semester at the university will begin. At the university’s spring athletic events, many sports fans were no longer wearing masks, although athletes remained masked when they were not on the field. It was planned that Bryant-Denny Stadium would be at full capacity when the 2021 football season resumed. As many as 100,000 fans could pour into T-Town, the vast majority of whom will be unmasked and not socially distanced. A sizable number of fans will likely not have been fully vaccinated. And that any kind of “herd immunity” would have been arrived at by the first game on September 11, 2021, is uncertain at best.

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A-Day game leads to chaos in T-Town

Image from TPD Facebook post

When the hybrid bar restaurant Twelve/25 applied for its liquor license in 2019, Stephanie Taylor reported in the Tuscaloosa News:

“We want to create a restaurant and sports bar unlike anything on the Strip, or Tuscaloosa for that matter,” said Mobile resident Josh Boone, who earned his undergraduate and law degrees from The University of Alabama. He’s one of three businessmen who invested in the business, hiring a consultant to help with marketing plans and other preparations.

“We’re so passionate about this project,” he said at a June 4 City Council meeting, when the group went before the council for liquor license approval. They said at the time they hoped to open by the first Alabama home game on Sept. 7, but renovations on the decades-old building took longer than expected.

At the first hearing, [Tuscaloosa Mayor] Maddox asked whether the business would appeal to customers other than college students.

“This speaks to the three things I love in life: beer, food and sports,” Maddox said.

More recently Mayor Walt Maddox has had some reservations about hybrid/bar restaurants.

As reported by Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News, Mayor Maddox “intends to target business owners that he believes are operating beyond the scope and boundary of the business and alcohol licenses that they had been awarded by the City Council.”

Some of the problems on The Strip that occurred which were related to the A-Day game weekend, according to Tuscaloosa Police Department Chief Brent Blankley, were created when people from out of town responded to social media posts made by bars. He said that a performance by Nle Choppa, a rap artist from Tennessee who “glorifies violence in his music,” drew many of the people to The Strip on the night of April 16th, 2021.

Emily Enfinger reported on the A-Day game weekend incidents in the Tuscaloosa News:

Tuscaloosa police responded to a total of 271 calls for service on the day of the A-Day game, the 24-hour period from early Saturday morning through early Sunday morning.

Several incidents that occurred overnight resulted in multiple arrests and six weapons, including an AK-47, being confiscated by police, according to a Tuscaloosa police news release. 

The concerns of District 4 City Council member Lee Busby were reported by Jason Morton. Busby said that “he was open to reviewing the city’s current entertainment districts, where laws governing  open containers and public consumption of alcohol are relaxed, while questioning whether some businesses justify the expense of protecting them.”

“We may need to examine what this business is worth to the city of Tuscaloosa,” Busby said, “and how many casualties we’re willing to endure as a result of it.”

The crowd that gathered after the A-Day game was reminiscent of the celebratory activities on The Strip that occurred after the National Championship win by the University of Alabama football team on January 11th, 2021. Twelve/25, as well as other bars, on that occasion had been charging a large sum to even get inside. Most of the estimated crowd of 5,000 on The Strip in January were not patrons of its bars. The Strip has become a gathering spot after football games for thousands of fans, at least in some part due to the many bars located there.

Is it too late for T-Town to do anything about the proliferation of bars on The Strip? The University of Alabama once tried to reduce the number of bars adjacent to its campus. But, since then, the number of bars on The Strip has exploded. There are no laws requiring any limits on the distance between bars on The Strip. Jason Morton explained:

Now, a City Council can approve an Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board license for a bar or restaurant, but it lacks the power to rescind it should that business act irresponsibly. Instead, the council’s only recourse is to revoke the business license, a process for which the Alabama courts have set a high standard.

When the 2021 Crimson Tide football season begins in September, will activities on The Strip be a further public safety concern? Stadium capacity for the A Day game was limited to 50,000 fans. In September Bryant Denny Stadium will be allowed to accommodate twice that many fans. After football games The Strip will be closed to vehicular traffic and packed with fans. The cost of maintaining public safety on game day weekends has been borne by the city and university. To some extent the policing of other areas in T-Town has been adversely effected. As Lee Busby has asked, “how many casualties” will be city be “willing to endure” as a result of making it so easy for people to consume alcohol?

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