How much does T-Town’s economy depend on alcohol sales to students?

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Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox has repeatedly emphasized the importance of University students to T-Town’s economy. He was quoted by WVUA/23‘s Chelsea Barton as having said, “Student spending itself in Tuscaloosa is a $366 million investment. August is gonna be maybe one of the most important months in recent history of Tuscaloosa.”

Students spend money on many things in T-Town, alcohol not being the least of them. According to Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News “community feedback from bar and restaurant owners” convinced the mayor to pull back on his decision to shut down bar service at 9 pm. He had previously set 11 pm as the hour to end bar only service.

It’s difficult to access the importance that liquor sales have to Tuscaloosa’s economy. And it’s even more difficult to determine how much liquor is consumed by under-aged drinkers. Minors can legally enter premises where alcohol is sold. Alcohol sales to football fans on game day weekends has also doubtlessly generated much tax revenue.

The Alabama Beverage Control Board regulates alcohol sales. Any establishment that serves alcohol is required to be licensed by the board.

There are three types of licenses: (1) 010 Lounge Retail, (2) 020 Restaurant Retail and (3) 031 Private Club.

The 2019 Code of Alabama Title 28 – Intoxicating Liquor, Malt Beverages and Wine establishes age requirements.

Many of the minors who are admitted into licensed establishments are University of Alabama students. The University, according to College Factual‘s The University of Alabama Student Age Diversity Breakdown, has 34.5% of its nearly forty thousand students in the 18-19 age group and 30.9% in the 20-21 age group.

Throughout the nation fake IDs have been used to skirt laws on under-aged sales. In Oxford, Mississippi, where the University of Mississippi is located, Mark Hicks, Director of Enforcement for the Mississippi ABC said in 2006, “We have a big problem in Oxford with students purchasing alcohol with fraudulent identification. This presents a challenge for law enforcement and retailers.”

Oxford’s Mayor Richard Howorth once asked, “Do we really want to be known as a drinking town with a football problem?” He also said, as reported by Chris Elkins in the Daily Journal, “Our No. 1 community problem is the culture of alcohol.”

In 2018, under Howorth’s successor Mayor Robyn Tannehill an ordinance establishing a mandatory program requiring the use of an Electronic Age Verification Device where alcohol was sold was enacted.

During the discussion of the ordinance the testimony of Oxford’s Police of Chief was provided by Chaning Green in the Daily Journal:

Oxford Police Chief Joey East stood before the board to answer questions and provide additional insight to the process. He talked about how there have been over 100 charges, not arrested but charges, that have happened since the students returned. The majority of which happened on the Square, in this Downtown District.

There is a 19-year-old college student currently in the ICU being treated for severe alcohol poisoning, after spending an evening binge drinking and being served in bars on the Square.

Two young women were recently sexually assaulted in two businesses on the Square. One of the businesses didn’t have security cameras and the other one’s cameras were broken.

East said he and the rest of his department are tired of running into these issues over and over again and that it’s past time something was done about it.

As soon as the ordinance was even being considered, many Ole Miss students were thinking about ways to defeat its purpose.

In 2018, Mary Liz King in The Daily Mississippian reported:

Sophomore business major Mason Ross said the ordinance will be a minor setback, but underage students will still find ways to engage in the bar scene in Oxford.

“Students will eventually start getting around the scanners, it will just take time,” Ross said. “I know some people are still getting in. Bouncers are looking the other way as long as people pay the cover charges.”

Establishments that sell alcohol in Alabama are obligated to verify the age of anyone purchasing alcohol. ABC provides training on how to visually detect fake IDs. Bar owners who are periodically given instructions must convey this information to their staff.

Tuscaloosa’s City Council, before the Coronavirus epidemic, had considered the issue of “bar security.” Glenda Webb of the city’s legal staff said that one problem that Tuscaloosa, as well as in other cities, had was the rapid turnaround of staff at bars. There would be a problem at many bars in maintaining a staff that was adequately trained. After a shooting had occurred at a local bar that was related to the behavior of security personnel, “bar security” became a hot topic. Of course due to the turnover having staff members who had expertise in identifying fake IDs was less likely as well.

Any reduction of alcohol sales in Tuscaloosa that has resulted from restrictions due to Coronavirus orders may be reflected in lower city revenues. Just how significant such sales really are may be impossible to determine, much less the significance of sales to minors.

T-Town may not be “a drinking town with a football problem” as Oxford’s mayor described his city. But it can’t be denied that Tuscaloosa has a problem, like any other college town, with under-aged drinking. The impact on its economy that will result from decreased alcohol sales will be hard to ignore.

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Meaningless occupancy restrictions in T-Town

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Much has been said lately about limiting occupancy in bars and restaurants in T-Town. But occupancy, if based on standard fire safety codes, is virtually meaningless in limiting exposure to the coronavirus.

The purpose of an August 6th executive order by Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox on time and occupancy restrictions was to “promote the health safety and welfare of the citizens of Tuscaloosa” and to mitigate “the spread of infectious diseases by reducing the threat of exposure.” In the order, businesses that have alcohol licenses were limited to 50 percent of their normal occupancy as determined by the Fire Marshal.

The many fire code violations that have occurred at businesses serving alcohol in Tuscaloosa usually involve patrons who are packed in like sardines. Fire safety regulations are based on the NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. The National Fire Protection Association‘s code stipulates how many people can be in establishment based on how many square feet are available for each person:

From the 2015 edition of NFPA 101

12.1.7.1.1 In areas not in excess of 10,000 sq.ft., the occupant load shall not exceed one person in 5 sq. ft.

12.1.7.1.2 In areas in excess of 10,000 sq.ft., the occupant load shall not exceed one person in 7 sq.ft.

However, if occupancy were to be based on recommendations by the the United States Fire Administration (USFA), the Life Safety Code standard would be insignificant. Instead as much as 113 square feet per person would be required. The USFA standard is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standard that requires a distance of at least 6 feet between people outside your home. Alabama’s current Safer At Home order is likewise based on the CDC standard.

Mayor Walt Maddox announced how he would deal with controlling the spread of the coronavirus by using his new executive authority. As reported by Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News, Maddox said, “To take no action is to resign Tuscaloosa to a healthcare and economic fate that we would regret. The stakes have never been higher on this issue.”

During the press conference Maddox said that the behavior he witnessed on University Boulevard indicated that the coronavirus was the last thing on the minds of the young people he observed. He said that because enforcement of social distancing and mask wearing orders had proven to be difficult to enforce, occupancy at bars and restaurants would be targeted.

He said that bar-only service at restaurants would stop and bar occupancy would be reduced to 50 percent after 9 p.m. The occupancy of “experience/entertainment venues” would be limited to 25 percent at all times.

But that soon changed. Instead of ending bar service at 9 p.m. — 11 p.m. would be the cutoff hour. Jason Morton reported in the Tuscaloosa News: “After a meeting with owners of local bars and restaurants, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox has altered his initial plans to curb late night activity in an effort to slow the coronavirus spread.” Morton wrote that the Mayor had “intended to implement a 9 p.m. halt to bar-only service at restaurants. Though drinks would still be allowed at tables, this move was intended to prevent restaurants from converting into bars after a certain hour.”

Indeed a hybrid bar/restaurant such as Innisfree Irish Pub, which has been a popular place for students to hang out, had stopped food service at an early hour and had served alcohol until the early morning hours. Innisfree’s co-owner Tripp Rogers had been one of the most vocal opponents of the new restrictions.

Rogers was quoted in the Tuscaloosa News as saying that crowds were found at churches, home improvement stores and fitness centers. “I just don’t want to be the only industry that gets singled out,” Rogers said. “But it’s hard. There’s no winning for anybody in this. The city has to make tough decisions and we’re going to have to live with it, no matter what.”

Throughout the nation bars and restaurants have been completely shut down. As reported in USA Today, “Now, as COVID-19 cases spike nationwide — including some states seeing record highs in new daily cases — several states and some cities are backtracking by closing dining rooms once again, in hopes of controlling the spread of the virus. Others have announced they’re stalling plans to re-open dining rooms.”

In T-Town, the bars that cater to students often have had long lines of unmasked people, who are standing shoulder to shoulder waiting to get in. The idea that the social distancing required by the state of Alabama would exist inside the bars is absolutely absurd. Most just don’t have adequate space for maintaining the distancing recommended by the CDC. The city’s 50% occupancy standard is meaningless.

Could it be that the city is aware of how preposterous its occupancy requirement really is? The city seems to be concerned about the impact of reopening the University of Alabama. As was reported in the Tuscaloosa News, “Based on current coronavirus trends and positive test rates of almost 12 percent, the arrival of University of Alabama students – a total that City Hall is now estimating at about 20,000 – could lead to more than 2,300 new cases in Tuscaloosa County.”

Perhaps the relaxation of the city’s requirements that must be met by bars and restaurants is on a trial-run basis? But occupancy requirements that don’t maintain social distancing are meaningless. Hopefully before the presence of students at bars and restaurants results in thousands of new coronavirus infections any such trial run will be over.

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Moving the goal line?

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For months Alabama football fans have been expecting an announcement about whether the Crimson Tide football team would be storming out on the gridiron in 2020. Because of the logistics of running a football program it was thought that a decision would be made by mid-July. It was estimated that it would take at least six weeks of preparation before the first game was played.

As the toll from the Coronavirus epidemic increased, many people were hoping that the season would be postponed for a year. Fans had mixed emotions according to Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande. He wrote about John Wills who was not planning on going to games after his wife had been hospitalized for two weeks after coaching Million Dollar Band Crimsonettes at a twirling competition in Ohio.

It was not until the end of July that there was a hint about any plans for the University of Alabama‘s football team. On July 29th an article by Cecil Hurt in the Tuscaloosa News reported on an email that had been sent by the University’s Director of Athletics Greg Byrne. Although the actual schedule had not been finalized, he informed season ticket holders and members of Tide Pride about the possibility of a “modified seating model.” He said that “those affected will have the option to elect a complete or partial refund of Tide Pride contributions and ticket purchases.”

The University of Texas Athletic Director Chris Del Conte recently told Longhorn fans that its stadium capacity would be at 50%. Similar plans were being made at the University of Houston. The University of Michigan anticipates having reduced crowds in the stadium. Ohio State‘s Athletic Director Gene Smith, as far back as in May, said that the Buckeyes might be playing before a stadium that was only about 30% full. At one time schools on the West Coast were actually contemplating canceling their seasons.

According to NCCA-FB‘s Dennis Dodd, the NCAA 2020 college football season was hanging in the balance due to uncertainties about the NCAA’s minimum testing requirements. Dodd wrote:

“Where is the panic button?” asked Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease expert at the UAB School of Medicine. “Where is the number of positive tests that makes the administration say, ‘OK we’ve got to cancel this week’s game?'”

There was an article in the Washington Post “On a call with SEC leaders, worried players pushed back: ‘It’s not good enough.'” by Robert Klemko and Emily Giambalvo. They reported on the concerns of players about reopening “a multibillion dollar industry afloat amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.” They quoted an unidentified SEC spokesman who said, “We’re going to have cases on every single team in the SEC. That’s a given. And we can’t prevent it.”

Al.com‘s Joseph Goodman addressed the complexities of playing football in the Southeastern Conference during a pandemic:

SEC presidents voted to scrap non-conference games on Thursday, but add two to everyone’s league slates. It feels a lot like a Hail Mary amid a hail storm. Pushing the season back three weeks to buy time is a great plan, and I’m hopeful that the number of coronavirus cases in the South will drop to acceptable levels by then. It’s not time to relax, though.

We know what happens when people let their guards down too early with the coronavirus.

You want preseason stats? Alabama reported 1,923 new coronavirus cases on Thursday morning, and there were 1,598 hospitalized people in the state due to COVID-19-related health problems. We’re under a state-wide mask order until Aug.31. Football can wait.

These altered league schedules we’re seeing around the country are nothing to celebrate. They’re necessary cash bailouts because college football pays the bills and keeps the lights on for non-revenue sports. If universities weren’t desperate for television money from ESPN and CBS, then league presidents would not be voting to play games.

They’re going to try and have college football, but the stadiums will be mostly empty. We’re hoping for football, but it’s still going to require a commitment from the public to follow rules. Tailgating? Nah. Not this year.

Grim statistics were recently reported in Al.com‘s Ramsey Archibald‘s article “Coronavirus deaths already well past average annual flu deaths in Alabama.” He said that it “has now been clear for some time – COVID-19 is not ‘just a bad flu.’ Alabama hasn’t suffered more than 1,268 flu deaths in any of the last 20 years – a number the coronavirus has already topped.” Archibald said that epidemiologists were concerned, that when the flu season begins, the two viruses could “potentially overlap in busy hospitals.”

In addition to the over thirty thousand University of Alabama students that are expected to return to the Capstone, having upwards of fifty thousand football fans enter the mix in T-Town is entering uncharted territory. There is already a great amount of uncertainty involved in reopening the campus.

Will Tuscaloosa become a giant petri dish for the Coronavirus in the Fall or will everything go as planned? Will students and fans act responsibly by social distancing and wearing masks, before and after the games? Will football players remain healthy? It can fairly be said that there has seldom been a football season in T-Town that is as much on the minds of its residents as this one has been.

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To Mask Or Not To Mask?

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There hasn’t been much mention of COVID parties lately on Facebook group pages. Before the Fourth of July there had been a spate of articles about alleged parties that had taken place in T-Town, the purpose of which had been said was for party goers to compete in becoming infected by the Coronavirus. None of the culprits, who were said to have been involved in them by a local doctor, have ever been found.

A statewide mask order that was issued by Governor Ivy went into effect on July 16th. It will be in effect at least until July 31st. The order was issued after a significant statewide uptick in COVID related hospitalizations. A city mask ordinance in Tuscaloosa had already been in effect since July 6th which would have applied until August 5th. The state order superseded any local regulations. There has been a mixed response to the mask order.

There had been the ongoing debate between mask skeptics and those who believe in masks, Caitlan McCabe’s article in the Wall Street Journal “Face Masks Really Do Matter. The Scientific Evidence Is Growing” supported the use of masks. She discussed among other things that “research suggests that face coverings help reduce the transmission of droplets.”

One major concern that has increasingly been discussed on Facebook has been the return of nearly 30,000 university students to T-Town. Many permanent residents looked at the inevitable reopening of the University of Alabama with trepidation. There was also concern expressed by Safe Return UA, a staff, faculty and student-led campaign. Safe Return UA called for “universal COVID-19 testing, adequate family and medical leave, employment protections and public accountability for the upcoming academic year at the University of Alabama.”

Al.com‘s Dennis Pillion reported on the plans to test every college student in the state. He quoted the University of Alabama Birmingham‘s Dr. Michael Saag as having said that “every student is going to be asked to wear a mask, as well as all the staff and the faculty on the campus to try to mitigate the spread while they’re there. My hope is that if everyone’s wearing a mask when they’re out and about, when they’re inside enclosed spaces.”

According to Pillion, Sang explained that the testing will involve samples from multiple students — five to 10 at a time, depending on the circumstances — which will be combined. If the pooled sample tests negative, all the students in the pool are negative. If the pooled sample tests positive, the lab can then test the individual samples to find which students in the pool are positive.

“‘The thing that will throw us off is if the prevalence in the community of students is over 4%,” Sang said. “We don’t anticipate that based on preliminary data that we have so far, but it’s very fluid, and we’ll have to see what we get.”

The University of Alabama‘s Return Plan leaves many questions to be answered.

In terms of the plan’s safety practices there seems to be a good deal of reliance on voluntary cooperation. “Individuals who fail to complete these measures will be asked to repeat the training. Continued non-compliance will result in further review through the Office of Student Conduct or Human Resources and could result in dismissal. We will continue with messaging on the importance of and requirement to wear face coverings and other PPE. In keeping with Crimson Tide tradition, we are confident the University community will join together to help each other.”

Should the state or city mask orders expire there would be no obligation for students to wear masks in public in off-campus areas.

“Face coverings are required in all UA facilities, with limited exceptions. A face covering is not required in your own room or suite in University housing. However, it will be required in common areas, like residence hall lobbies. We also strongly encourage you to use a face covering in all public settings.

“Face coverings are required inside all University-owned buildings, and outside during on-campus gatherings and in other on-campus settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain.”

“Along with your personal room and suite in University housing, you do not have to wear a face covering in enclosed offices, enclosed study spaces, your vehicles, outdoors where distancing is met and when doing certain physical activities such as working out at specified University Recreation facilities. Although not required in these instances, use of a face covering in all settings is strongly encouraged.”

In order to keep the “campus community as safe as possible during the school year,” some students are being moved from residence halls to the off-campus Loft apartments.

“We apologize for any inconvenience, but we expect the new facilities to be comparable or an enhanced option to students’ previous assignment, including a private bathroom for each resident, and a washer/dryer in each apartment. Every effort was made to assign students with roommates in their roommate group, possibly along with one additional student. Students still live under the HRC housing contract, which will last only for the academic year, although students will have the option to remain through July 2021, at no additional cost. Students will pay a reduced rate, and utilities will be included.

“Crimson Ride will also provide transportation between campus and the Lofts. We understand this is unexpected news, and we regret that it may add to what has without doubt been an uncertain few months. The University does not make the change lightly, but only because of its obligation to be proactive in planning for capacity issues while following the guidelines outlined in the University’s Plan for a Return to Full Operations and keeping the campus community as safe as possible during the school year. Students who instead prefer to make their own off-campus arrangements may cancel their housing contract if they prefer.”

The usually crowded and hectic Sorority Rush will initially conducted online. “Most sorority recruitment rounds, which begin Saturday, Aug. 8, will be held virtually, with potential new members interacting with current sorority members via Zoom.”

In terms of campus gatherings and Greek activities “personal responsibility” for safe behavior is called for.

“Social events and group experiences will be planned to preserve the experience, consistent with health and safety requirements. Details will be released for each event. Students should take personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from infection.

“Student groups, including Greek organizations, are strongly encouraged to move events outside and use online meeting platforms when possible. Student groups must abide by all stated occupancy limitations when hosting events or gatherings indoors.”

How off-campus activity will be regulated, if at all, is uncertain although on-campus activities have restrictions.

“UA, in compliance with the UA System Health and Safety Plan, has implemented additional restrictions on certain events in an effort to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Event attendees should enter a facility or event only after having completed the Healthcheck assessment tool.”

Recently, even after the statewide mask order, young people who were not wearing masks and were standing shoulder to shoulder have been observed outside of bars that traditionally serve students. The order stipulates that masks should be worn by people who are within 6 feet of a person from another household. In order to eat or drink masks would need to be removed of course.

The Tuscaloosa Rotary Club had a “socially distanced” meeting with University of Alabama President Andrew Bell as its guest speaker. Apparently pictures on Instagram showed that a distance of six feet between Rotarians was maintained. It took a fairly large ballroom to maintain such distancing for fewer than forty people. There are few comparable spaces available in campus bars.

There have been problems with fire code violations at venues that University students have frequented. No details were provided by Tuscaloosa’s Fire Chief Randy Smith about the 22 businesses in May that were in violation of the Alabama Department of Public Health’s reopening guidelines according to an ABC 33/40 story.

Alison Snyder in Axios reported, “More young people are being infected with the coronavirus, and even though they’re less likely to die from it, experts warn the virus’ spread among young adults may further fuel outbreaks across the United States.”

A fear of having student “super spreaders” of Coronavirus in the community exists for many permanent residents. They are not reassured by the University of Alabama‘s plans for reopening. Many of them have had previous experiences with students that caused them concern. A survey in 2012 by Tuscaloosa Neighbors Together reflected a general antipathy towards student housing.

The pandemic will perhaps provide an opportunity for the University of Alabama and its students to regain the trust of the permanent residents of T-Town.

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Covid Parties in T-Town?

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T-Town has been in the national news lately because of stories about COVID-19 parties. Bruce Y Lee wrote an article “Are Covid-19 Coronavirus Parties Really A Thing In Alabama?” in Forbes magazine that said:

A recent example is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Allegedly, college students there have been holding such Covid-19 parties in which attendees pay an entry fee, someone brings the SARS-CoV2 with him or her to the party, and the first person who ends up gets infected at the party then wins the collective pot of entry fees.

Lee posted the University of Alabama‘s disclaimer. You shouldn’t expect a mea culpa from the school unless iron-clad evidence is available of course.

One thing that is certain. Any nationwide publicity about COVID-19 parties in Tuscaloosa was the last thing that the University of Alabama wanted just before re-enrollment began. 

The difficulty in identifying any student who may have been involved shouldn’t be too surprising. In the case of a Rockland County suburb nine guests at a posh party tested positive. Subpoenas were necessary for the local authorities to get the names of any of the infected guests.

Stories had been circulating in T-Town about the COVID parties for weeks. A Tuscaloosa Council woman Cynthia McKinstry had even mentioned them in a committee meeting.

Then Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith, at a Pre-Council meeting on June 30th, stated that “The one thing that we have seen over the past few weeks were parties going on in the city, county and several locations where students or kids would come in with known positives. We thought that was a rumor at first. We did some additional research, not only at the doctor’s office but at the state and they had the same information.”

He also said that some of the people who were tested used out-of-state IDs. That would indicate that some of the people involved were students whose permanent residence was not in Tuscaloosa.

Mark Hughes Cobb reported in the Tuscaloosa News what a local doctor had said:

Dr. Ramesh Peramsetty, a local physician who has been actively posting on West Alabama social media groups regarding pandemic testing and screening, from the perspective of his First Care and Crimson Care clinics, said COVID party stories have been going around for weeks. He posted what he’d heard about them as far back as June 8.

“While my nursing staff was triaging patients for COVID-19 swabbing, they were told about the COVID-19 house parties and were even shown videos of the parties by college students,” Peramsetty said.

“When students are called for results, we noticed that some were very excited and happy that they were positive, while others were very upset that they were negative.”

Although Dr. Peramsetty may not have viewed the videos, he felt confident enough in what his staff had told him to mention them.

However, if any of the videos had ever been posted on social media sites they seem to have been scrubbed. Conceivably the subjects in the alleged COVID party videos may have decided that perhaps they shouldn’t be feeling all that proud about them. If University of Alabama students had been in the videos, then the University’s “thorough investigation” was certainly impeded.

In the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White featured Grace Schepis’s article “Local doctor: University left key clinic out of ‘corona parties’ investigation”

Schepis wrote, “While these rumors may have raised eyebrows, they’ve also raised concerns about the University’s preparedness for the fall.”

She quoted the University’s President Stuart Bell as having said, “I think everyone needs to take this virus seriously. And I think [people] are making rumors of almost anything you could imagine someone would say. We look, certainly within our leadership, among our SGA, among our Greeks, and are communicating to them the importance of making sure that you make good decisions and smart decisions, and we will continue to do that as a University.”

Schepis continued, “The University did not provide a specific description of its investigation, but The Crimson White is actively seeking that information. Despite Crimson Care’s close proximity to campus, Peramsetty said he was never contacted by the University throughout its investigation about possible instances of these parties or any related cases. Peramsetty said his staff have informed the City of Tuscaloosa, but not the University directly.”

She further reported:

Garrett Bridger Gilmore, an English instructor and organizer for Safe Return UA, thinks that there is a bigger lesson to learn from this incident. 

“Whether COVID parties really happened or not, this is an important lesson that we cannot only rely on individual choices to keep us safe when students return to campus,” Gilmore said. “Many of UA’s proposed policies rely on students who test positive to quarantine themselves, but they haven’t released details on who will be responsible for enforcing quarantining or how they will do it.”

On June 15, the University released a rudimentary plan for students to return to campus in the fall. The plan included quarantine measures for those who test positive while on campus and an optional contact tracking system for students, but even new additions to the plan have yet to provide details on enforcement.

“Without a public plan that accounts for how UA will implement universal testing and for what measures will be taken to ensure that students who are infected don’t carry on their lives like everything is normal, it’s hard for many university employees to believe that UA is taking COVID-19 as seriously as they say they are,” Gilmore said.

One thing is clear. In T-Town many people who were apprehensive about the reopening of the University of Alabama were hardly reassured about the COVID party stories.

Although younger people are certainly contracting the Coronavirus, older people are more likely to be at higher risk of serious illness.

Many residents were already aware of the non-stop partying that had been going on by University students who’d never left town after the school ended its face to face instruction in March. They also knew that some students had returned to the neighborhoods that are adjacent to the university. There had been newspaper accounts of campus bars where social distancing regulations had been violated. Some of these bars had been forced to close because their staff had been infected with the Coronavirus. In effect what had been going on in certain bars had been a form of COVID-19 parties–without the actual intention of the participants being infected.

Should any of the COVID-19 party goers have been University of Alabama students, for the University to announce that the students who were involved would not be allowed to re-enroll would greatly reassure T-Town residents. Contact tracing of all potentially infected persons is also needed. As it stands now, without any determination of who the people were who participated in the parties, there is no reason to think that they are not remaining in town and still not engaging in reckless behavior.

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Pride & Prejudice at Bama

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Old timers may recall when the “national anthem” of the Confederacy “Dixie” was played. Many football fans sang along as the University of Alabama‘s Million Dollar Band played the iconic song. “I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten.”

The song “Dixie” was written in the 1850s for blackface minstrel shows. According to the History Collection:

With its beginnings in theater, the story of “Dixie” starts with a song. By the mid-nineteenth century, minstrel shows – a variety show that included singing and dancing – were popular entertainments that ridiculed African slaves. Using skits that depicted Africans as lazy and good-natured, minstrel shows introduced “blackface” characters played by white actors in black makeup. They perpetuated the “dumb Negro” stereotype, beginning with the “Jim Crow” character in the 1830s. Initially appearing once or twice within a given performance, “blackface” caricatures soon became the center of the minstrelsy.

Lewis Bolling wrote an account of the celebration that took place after the University of Alabama football team’s 1926 victory at the Rose Bowl. He described how the Million Dollar Band marched down Greensboro Avenue. A speaker at the event bragged that the team was unbeatable when the band played “Dixie.”

A Georgia newspaper proclaimed the victory the “greatest victory for the South since the Battle of Bull Run,” referring to the first major victory for the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

The lyrics of team’s fight song “Yea Alabama” refer to the 1926 Rose Bowl victory. “Remember the Rose Bowl/We’ll win then/So roll on to victory/Hit your stride/You’re Dixie’s football pride/Crimson Tide Roll Tide, Roll Tide.”

It’s been many years since the strains of “Dixie” have wafted over the bleachers in Bryant Denny Stadium. In recent years fans have sung along with the country song “Dixieland Delight.” Its lyrics include a reference to “A little turtle dovin’ on a Mason Dixon night.” Student fans, many of whom come from areas in the United States outside of Dixieland, are enamored of the song which somehow “fits” their lives.

But more than “Dixieland Delight” and perhaps even “Yea Alabama,” the song that now seems synonymous with Alabama Football was written in the middle of a Florida swamp in a shack by a group of stoned rockers named Lynyrd Skynyrd. One of the song’s composers Ronnie Van Zant once said, “Everybody thinks we’re a bunch of drunken rednecks … and that’s correct.”

“Sweet Home Alabama” is indelibly tied to Alabama football games where it is frequently played. Even in the pregame spots by television networks it is often featured. It has a catchy tune but in a way the song may have more racist overtones than even “Dixie.” To be fair the musicians may have been so out of it that the lyrics they cobbled together may have not have been intended as racist.

“Sweet Home Alabama” refers to the 1970 song “Southern Man” by Neil Young about the lynchings of blacks that took place in Alabama and other parts of the South. “Well I heard Mister Young sing about her/Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down/Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/A Southern man don’t need him around, anyhow.”

The song also seems to side with Alabama’s former segregationist governor George Wallace. “In Birmingham, they love the governor (boo! boo! boo!)/ Now we all did what we could do.” The lyrics of “Home Sweet Alabama” say “the skies are so blue and the governor’s true.”

Young has recently said, “It’s not just ‘Southern Man’ now. It’s everywhere across the USA. It’s time for real change.”

For “Sweet Home Alabama” to remain as the song most readily associated with Alabama football after the national unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd would seem to fly in the face of sentiments expressed by its football coach and players.

In Alabama the skies aren’t always blue and football fans aren’t all white. To ban “Sweet Home Alabama” from Bryant Denny Stadium might well be a good way to show that black lives matter.

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A Recipe for Disaster?

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The University of Alabama has released a guiding plan to return to full campus operations. University President Dr. Stuart R. Bell has said, “We will be nimble. We will adjust. We will learn. Ultimately, we will win and be Still Tide Together.”

A petition “Statement of Expectations for Worker Health and Safety for Academic Year 2020-2021” sponsored by the United Campus Workers of Alabama CWA Local 3965 expressed concerns over the University’s plan. It stated that many members of the University community were concerned about health and safety issues, saying that “older adults and people with underlying health conditions are at increased risk for severe infection and death.” It stated:

While recommendations for mandatory mask use, social distancing, flexibility with class format, and robust testing and tracing offer a solid foundation for the physical aspects of health on campus, many of the System’s recommendations include caveats like “when available” that leave the door open for under-preparedness, inaction and neglect. Additionally, the UA System Comprehensive Plan made no mention of employment policies, contingency plans for severe outbreaks on campus or in local communities, or structures of accountability for decision makers. It is the university’s moral responsibility to its workers, students and community to adapt its employment policies to ensure safety for workers and the broader University community.

A successful reopening of the University and the return of thousands of students will benefit Tuscaloosa’s economy as much as anything possibly could. The city lost an estimated $2.6 million in revenue per mouth after the University sent its students home in March.

Any success largely depends on the cooperation of the returning students. Temple University‘s Dr. Laurence Steinberg in a New York Times opinion column expressed a pessimistic view of how students will cope with returning to school. In his article “Expecting Students to Play It Safe if Colleges Reopen Is a Fantasy” he said that plans for returning students “border on delusional and could lead to outbreaks of Covid-19 among students, faculty and staff.”

Steinberg said that the risky behavior of many students, including “reckless driving, criminal activity, fighting, unsafe sex and binge drinking,” was typical of students in their late-adolescence. His team conducted epidemiological studies that have that reached the same conclusions of other such studies on adolescents. He concluded:

My pessimistic prediction is that the college and university reopening strategies under consideration will work for a few weeks before their effectiveness fizzles out. By then, many students will have become cavalier about wearing masks and sanitizing their hands. They will ignore social distancing guidelines when they want to hug old friends they run into on the way to class. They will venture out of their “families” and begin partying in their hallways with classmates from other clusters, and soon after, with those who live on other floors, in other dorms, or off campus. They will get drunk and hang out and hook up with people they don’t know well. And infections on campus — not only among students, but among the adults who come into contact with them — will begin to increase.

At that point, college administrators will find themselves in a very dicey situation, with few good options.

In Florida, which recently reopened its bars, a group of sixteen friends all tested positive for the Coronavirus. In CNNs Madeline Holcombe’s report “16 friends test positive for coronavirus after an outing at a Florida bar” they regretted that they did not wear masks in the crowded bar. Florida has had record setting rates of infection in June. Gino Spocchia reported in The Independent that some of Florida’s recently opened bars and restaurants were forced to close amid new Covid-19 cases.

When University of Alabama students return will they, as Temple’s professor Steinberg predicts of students in general, disregard safety measures both on and off campus? Tuscaloosa community residents have for months practiced safe behavior. The returning students who might become infected will in most cases suffer little. That may not be the case for older permanent residents. Many of the Druid City Health Care system’s ICU units are already full. An increase in infection in the community could overwhelm its healthcare system.

Whether the University of Alabama‘s plans to minimize the spread of the Coronavirus are effective may well depend on student leadership. If there is such leadership the history of Alabama’s flagship university will have a special chapter dedicated to the role that students played in its most important victory.

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Southern Change at Bama?

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When students or football fans return to the University of Alabama in the Fall, they will not see the Confederate monument that has long stood in front of the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library. As Stephanie Taylor reported in The Tuscaloosa News the University of Alabama Board of Trustees had the monument removed and appointed a group “to study the names of campus buildings named after slave owners and proponents of white supremacy.”

The University’s student newspaper The Crimson White posted information on Twitter about four buildings that were named for individuals who had racist histories–Morgan Hall, Nott Hall, Manley Hall and Bibb Graves Hall.

Bibb Graves for example was a former governor of Alabama, who according to Wikipedia, had strong political ties to the Klux Klux Klan. He was also an advocate for eugenic sterilization. The Tweet by The Crimson White listed him as the “Grand Cyclops of the Montgomery Klavern.”

Research of Hilary Green, Assistant Professor at the University in the Department of Gender and Race Studies, culminated in the “The Hallowed Grounds Project: Race, Slavery and Memory at the University of Alabama.” She has for years conducted campus tours featuring buildings such as Bibb Graves Hall.

After the monuments on campus were removed, Green Tweeted “Since Jan 2015, I have researched campus history of slavery and its legacy. Conducted an in person tour for over 4,800 individuals. Taught classes, lectured, and written about the work. I will remember today. #slaveryua

Touchdown Alabama‘s Patrick Dowd wrote, “Change is on the horizon in America, and men and women all across the country are standing up to try and rid the nation of hateful and offensive properties.

“One of the many from the University of Alabama is former safety Rashad Johnson, who took to Twitter on Monday urging his alma mater to remove a number of Confederate monuments and to rename buildings across the campus.”

Dowd quoted Johnson’s Tweet: “The time is now @UofAlabama!!!. We can’t honor these people or anything that stood with this movement, it’s over y’all lost and we don’t need any reminders of the pain we have endured til this day! We are living in a new day!!! A change will and is coming!!”

In a Franklin Stove blog “Built by Bama?” that was posted in 2018, a quote from former Alabama football player Landon Collins about a incident of racism on campus was included. He said, “I believe I speak on behalf of my brothers and myself when I say the Bama football team does not need the support, cheers or high fives of anyone who condones this type of intolerant, hateful behavior. #BuiltByBama”

In 2014 a there was a Franklin Stove blog about discrimination by University of Alabama Greeks. The post “Bama Sorority Wants To Stay Lily-white?” featured the lyric’s of Neil Young’s song “Southern Man.” A verse of the song is: “Southern change gonna come at last /Now your crosses are burning fast.” Young has recently been quoted in Rolling Stone magazine about his classic song. “It’s not just ‘Southern Man’ now. It’s everywhere across the USA. It’s time for real change.”

Perhaps change is finally in the air at the University of Alabama. Its newly elected Student Government Association (SGA) President Demarcus Joiner, as Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan reported, “called for the school to rename buildings on campus with ‘racist namesakes.'”

Under Joiner the SGA released a statement:

The University of Alabama Student Government Association joins our fellow students in their call to rename these buildings and urge a review of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a state law banning local governments from renaming historical buildings.

The University’s head football coach Nick Saban made a definitive statement on racial justice in a letter that was sent to the media:

Al.com‘s Michael Casagrande’s article “Alabama football players speak out against racial injustice” quoted the reaction of former and current Alabama players to the murder of George Floyd. Offensive Lineman Chris Owns said “Change is coming from this generation whether you like it or not. Enough is enough.”

The tragic murder of George Floyd by the police in Milwaukee has resulted in consequences throughout the nation. Will the buildings that bear the names of notorious racists at the University of Alabama be renamed? Will serious steps be taken towards ending racial discrimination in the University’s Greek system? Those questions remain to be answered.

Perhaps Southern change will come at last?

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RTR – in a COVID Season!

Although the University of Alabama will resume in-person learning for the fall semester, much speculation has gone on about how its 2020 football season will be conducted.

The university is still struggling to figure out how to have football games. An article “COVID-tracking app could be key to University of Alabama reopening, including college football” by Al.com‘s Dennis Pillion described a possible approach.

Sue Feldman, a UAB associate professor of health informatics who is overseeing the technology aspects of the re-entry plan, said in addition to working on the contact tracing app, her group is working on ways to use technology to reduce the risk of large gatherings of people.

Feldman said that while it’s early in the process, attending a college sporting event in the future might be more like an airline flight, where people are required to check-in ahead of time and report that they are not showing symptoms of COVID-19.

“We’ve become accustomed to getting our plane ticket 24 hours before takeoff,” Feldman said. “You might get your event ticket 48 hours before, or 72 hours before the event. And with [showing] no symptoms.”

If a person who is asymptomatic checks in in this manner it will simply mean that super-spreaders may still be in the football crowd. Across from Bryant Denny Stadium is a cemetery where many graves of deceased Bama fans are decorated for the football season with floral “A’s” and houndstooth ribbons. If the process backfires there may be many more Bama fans joining them six feet under.

There is a nationwide problem with student athletes who have become infected with the Coronavirus. Purportedly five football players at the University of Alabama have tested positive. The way in which the University of Mississippi responded to an athlete and staff member who were infected was covered in The Clarion Ledger by Nick Suss. Two people who tested positive lived on campus and were asymptomatic carriers. They are both self-isolating. (Another athlete not living on campus who tested positive in a pre-screening for the Coronavirus was not be allowed to return.)

If college football games begin again, both players and fans may be required to wear masks. In Japan people in amusement parks who are riding a roller coaster are forbidden to scream. It will be unlikely that Bama fans during a game will not be repeatedly yelling Roll Tide Roll at the top of their lungs even if their screams are muffled by masks. How the Million Dollar Band can perform is another question. Throughout the nation the activities of marching bands have been greatly curtailed due to the Coronavirus. The number of fans allowed into stadiums will likely be severely restricted.

The University of Alabama Football Program has already assigned seats for the members of its Tide Pride program. As yet there have been no plans made public about how the games will be played and how the fans will be accommodated.

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A Bama COVID Experience!

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How the University of Alabama will reopen for face to face learning in August is as yet uncertain. In April University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John announced the formation of a task force led by UAB Health System experts to develop plans for the three University of Alabama System campuses.

The Yellowhammer News reported that St John “joined an exclusive national group for a discussion with Vice President Mike Pence and other key Trump administration officials on how to best get Americans safely back to school in the fall.” The website said:

Clay Ryan, vice chancellor for Governmental Affairs & Economic/Workforce Development, told Yellowhammer News in a statement, “Chancellor St. John presented on the four pillars of our plans for reopening our campuses: testing, tracking, tracing, and treatment.”

“Vice President Pence and Dr. Birx were impressed by the Help Beat Covid-19 symptom tracking tool, and we believe this group of higher education leaders will reconvene in the next few weeks at the White House to discuss fall plans with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and other members of the White House task force,” Ryan concluded.

Insight into how a university might reopen was provided in a DemocracyNow! interview with Dr. Ashish Jha, professor of global health and director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute. Dr. Jha, in a response to a question about schools such as the University of Alabama which were reopening, said:

As you might imagine, this is not just a conversation I’m having with lots of public health people and education officials, but also at home with the kids about what’s going to happen in the fall.

The way I think about this is there’s going — what is likely to happen is a lot of variations. Some schools are going to open, some schools are going to stay online. What should drive the decision-making? Well, one is how much community transmission is happening in that place at that time. So, if we’re thinking about Harvard University, for instance, how much community transmission is happening in eastern Massachusetts? If a lot of people are getting infected and sick, it’s going to be very hard for Harvard or any university in eastern Massachusetts to open.

Second is around availability of testing. I think you have to have a strategy where you’re going to have to be able to test kids and staff and faculty on an ongoing basis.

Third is you’re going to have to do certain social distancing things. There are going to be no large classes. There should be no large classes. There should be — if you’re going to do sporting events, certainly not with any kind of spectators, and you have to really think about what sporting events can you justify and how do you do that.

So there’s a lot of changes that are going to need to happen. I like the idea of starting early and trying to end early. I think most of us believe there will be a surge of cases in the fall. All the principles I just laid out need to happen for primary and secondary schools, as well, really rethinking things like cafeteria, rethinking things like sports. And if we do all of that, I believe there’s a very, very good chance that we can open up schools, we can get kids back to school in the fall. It may not look like a normal fall, but if we can get through this fall and we have a vaccine early in 2021, we can get through this pandemic.

Perhaps the elephant in the room, or at least on campus, is how the University of Alabama’s sports program will be affected by the pandemic. Some insight as to what conditions the university’s championship football team might play under this year was given in AP reporter Steve Megargee’s article “NCAA to lift moratorium on football, basketball workouts.”

Margargee wrote:

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in conference call Wednesday that he believes the Buckeyes could safely play home games with 20,000 to 30,000 fans in its 105,000-seat stadium.

“I think we can get there,” Smith said.

Smith said he hadn’t figured out yet how those 20,000 to 30,000 spectators would be chosen. He said masks and other precautions would be required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Smith added that Ohio State is ready to open the 15,000-square-foot Woody Hayes Athletic Center to athletes starting June 8 if the NCAA allows it. About 10 players at a time would be allowed to work out on staggered scheduled with social-distancing and other hygiene precautions in place. Some coaches returned to the complex on a limited basis this week.

Most athletic departments need the revenue generated from football to fund their other sports. Hundreds of schools are reeling financially from the effects of the pandemic. Athletic departments, particularly at smaller schools and in Division II, have already cut a number of sports.

The NCAA this week lowered the minimum and maximum number of games Division II schools are required to play in all sports next year. The move includes a 33% reduction in the minimum number of games needed for sponsorship and championship qualification in most sports.

The University of Alabama’s athletic director Greg Byrne has yet to reveal any details about the plans for the Crimson Tide. They may well differ from what Ohio State’s athletic director is contemplating. He did send a Bryne Notice email that said, “we recently added a pack of Alabama-themed face coverings to our online store.”

Crucial to the financial welfare of the City of Tuscaloosa is its “experience economy.” As reported by Jason Morton in The Tuscaloosa News the city’s Elevate/Tuscaloosa program includes $3 million that will be “targeted toward bolstering the city’s ‘experience economy’ by bringing in more concerts to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, more events to Live at the Plaza, and more music, food and art festivals, among other events.” Just when the requirements for “social distancing” and crowd sizes will allow the resumption of such activities is uncertain.

The University of Alabama’s sports program and other activities at the University are tangential yet at the same time significant components of Tuscaloosa’s “experience economy.” In the past many of Tuscaloosa’s “experience” events have coincided with the University’s sports and other activities. Of course students have been an important part of the audience for such events.

The city’s sales tax revenues have decreased since the onset of the pandemic. The sectors that have shown the most significant negative impacts can be associated with the absence of University students and events that were cancelled by the University.

A lot rests on what the University’s COVID experience will entail. Certainly the best and brightest minds at the University are at work in cobbling together the details on just how the Bama tradition will continue during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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