Did T-Town dodge a Covid bullet?

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Maybe what T-Town may have dodged might be better characterized as shotgun pellets, rather than a bullet.

The crowd of thousands that gathered on The Strip to celebrate the University of Alabama‘s football team’s National Championship could be considered a “super-spreader” event. People on The Strip after the game were shouting at the top of their lungs and packed together like sardines on January 11th, 2021. There have been many documented incidents of groups of only hundreds, such as wedding parties, that have caused Coronavirus infections in a community.

Jason Morton‘s reported in his article in the Tuscaloosa News “COVID-19 cases hold steady in Tuscaloosa one week after title celebration”:

So far, no community spikes in COVID-19 infections related to last week’s celebration of the University of Alabama’s latest football national championship have been reported at local hospitals.

But, Mayor Walt Maddox said on Tuesday, this potentially could change in the coming days.

On the week following the celebration in the street there was an uptick in hospitalizations at DCH with a new high of 199 coronavirus inpatients, as the Patch‘s Ryan Phillips reported. Whether that would become a trend was not known.

Martin Andersen, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in September 2020, co-authored a paper that linked community Covid-19 cases to college reopenings. Jillian Berman in Market Watch quoted him as having said:

“We’re sitting on a powder keg right now, between these new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 that are circulating, everyone having gone home for the winter break and having come back. We’re already in a bad situation and this has a risk of making it extremely bad.”

Such a study may have been one of the reasons why a labor union at the University of Alabama was so  concerned about the student celebration. In the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White, Grace Schlepis and Javon Williams reported:

UA Provost James Dalton announced a remote learning option for the first two weeks of the semester after Monday night’s championship celebration was deemed a possible superspreader event by Alabama health officials.

After Monday night’s events, United Campus Workers (UCW), a labor union representing UA employees, emailed Dalton and UA President Stuart Bell on Tuesday to demand a remote learning option. 

The University said in a statement on Tuesday that the spread of the virus is “almost nonexistent” in classrooms.

In its most recent meeting, Faculty Senate President Rona Donahoe reported that 90% of COVID cases were contracted off campus. 

Bell later said the gatherings on The Strip “underscore[d] the need for continued vigilance and caution by every member of our community.” 

UCW said that Monday night’s crowds “suggest that it is inevitable last night’s celebrations could lead to a local spike in new COVID-19 cases both within the City of Tuscaloosa and on our campus”

The nature of the Coronavirus is that college aged people have milder cases of the disease as pointed out in John Hopkins Medicine‘s Health bulletin. They are less likely to be hospitalized because of COVID-19 or to die from it. But they are also more likely to transmit the virus than others.

Seventy-five percent of students at the University of Alabama live off-campus. Only those who lived in dorms or fraternity houses on campus were required by the University to participate in Spring 2021 Reentry Testing. Since a large number of the students who participated in the championship celebration lived in student apartments near The Strip, they had likely not been tested. Perhaps fortune shined on T-Town and in that crowd of people, many of whom who had just returned from various cities in the United States, there were no Covid-19 carriers. However if there were Covid infected students, the extent of their proximity to people living in the community could be eventually reflected in hospital statistics.

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Football team: A+/University & City: F-

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Alabama football coach Nick Saban said, as reported by Al.com‘s Joseph Goodman, that this year’s Crimson Tide was the “ultimate team.” The team’s victory over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff was an extraordinary accomplishment. But that wasn’t why Saban set this team apart from all others. After all, Alabama now has won 18 National Championships. Saban said that the perseverance of the team during the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic put this team in a category all of its own.

More than one ESPN commentator, during its coverage of the playoff, emphasized that the Crimson Tide had exhibited an uncommon discipline during this year’s season. Players had a daily regimen of studying for classes and game preparation, while isolatiing themselves from others. They were tested on a daily basis with a six inch nasopharyngeal swab. Players did not participate in a traditional social life on or off campus. Saban trusted his players and their families enough to allow them to spend Christmas at home.

Crimson Tide players maintained discipline while studying at a school that has had high rates of Coronavirus infections. Many students who are not athletes have had cavalier attitudes about the pandemic. This was evident on the day of the January 11, 2021 playoff.

BroBible‘s Grayson Weir wrote about the student activity on gameday that occurred on The Strip:

It is 42 degrees and damp in Tuscaloosa, Ala. but that didn’t stop University of Alabama students from securing a spot in line at their favorite bars ahead of Monday’s National Championship game. The kickoff between the Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. CST, but the city’s main downtown area, called “The Strip,” started opening its doors at 11:00 a.m. to lines that were already hundreds of students deep.

Twelve 25 and Gallettes are the two most popular bars in the city and each bar took advantage of the high-demand and charged massive prices just to get in. The cover charge at Gallettes reached $100 by four o’clock in the afternoon while Twelve 25 was heard to have been charging upward of $250 for entry. To make things even more exclusive and lucrative, neither bar was “pre-banding,” which is the act of getting an entry wristband, leaving and coming back to that same bar later on. If you’re in, you’re in — if you’re out, you’re out.

WRBL.com‘s Malique Rankin reported on the atmosphere on The Strip:

“Yeah it’s going to be worth the wait,” said one Alabama student who would not share his name. “The whole street is going to be packed tonight.”

When asked if he was concerned for his health, he said no.

“Not at all! Absolutely not! Focused on winning the championship,” he said.

Cooper Weingert, a senior at UA said the pandemic takes a backseat to a national championship game.

“COVID is one thing, but it’s the national championship,” said Weingert. “I hate to say I’m not concerned, but it’s the natty.”

The University of Alabama, in anticipation of large numbers of students returning and celebrating a victory in the playoff, Tweeted a message with a photograph of the University’s mascot. In it Big Al was holding a championship trophy. The tweet said that students should avoid large gatherings, wear masks and maintain six foot social distancing. It included a link to a special championship site. A YouTube video featuring Coach Capstone made suggestions about Watch Parties. Needless to say, the parties that the captain referred to would not have taken place in bars and included few people.

The University’s Vice President for Student Life Dr. Myron L. Pope also Tweeted a message on the day of the playoff:

We are very proud of our football program as it prepares to play in the National Championship this evening. Our players + coaches have remained dedicated to the process and have overcome many adversities with class and passion.

Whether cheering on the team live in Miami, in Tuscaloosa or elsewhere, please remember:- Wear your mask.- Avoid parties or any large gatherings and stay 6 feet away from others.“- Make smart decisions before, during and after the game. Any unlawful behavior and/or violations of our health and safety protocols will result in disciplinary action.- Be a good neighbor and respect the impact your actions may have on those around you.

At UA, we are fortunate to have many successes to celebrate, and we expect our students to do so responsibly and safely. Please set the example with safety, passion and class. Roll Tide!

No venue that would allow students to view the game in a safe environment was suggested or provided by the University.

Just days before the game, an article by Patch‘s Ryan Phillips included a statement that was posted on Facebook by DCH Health System Vice President of Marketing and Communication Andy North. North posted:

DCH is focused on doing everything it can to maintain the needed care for the community and has continually advised leaders about the circumstances, including the current strain, so that they can make informed decisions about public policy. We are not in a position, nor is it our role, to make policy decisions for them.

Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Maddox had repeatedly claimed that the city was hamstrung and could not take independent steps without a request from DCH.

Phillips wrote:

The announcement did appear to come as some surprise to Tuscaloosa City Hall, which has maintained that while case numbers have risen to new highs in recent weeks due to the holidays, the hospital system has not requested any additional mandates or restrictions on local businesses to this point other than maintaining those currently in place.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said he was made aware of the Facebook post shortly after it was published and immediately reached out to DCH leadership.

The mayor then said DCH reaffirmed its position that it would notify community leaders if its internal options for capacity, staffing and personal protective equipment were in danger of becoming compromised. He also said he spoke with Tuscaloosa County Commission Chair and Probate Judge Rob Robertson and would be in communication with Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon as the situation develops.

One thing that Maddox has stressed is that few local hospitalizations have involved university students. People in that age range tend to, if infected with the Coronavirus, have milder symptoms. Therefore increased case numbers of University students would be less likely to impact the hospital system. Since the city’s decision on any Covid-19 measures are largely contingent on hospital capacity, the number of infected students is not considered by him to be a major issue. However, in other communities, according to a recent CDC report, there has been a significant community rise in Covid-19 cases when in-person University classes have commenced.

On January 5th, 2021, Jason Morton reported in The Tuscaloosa News that Council member Sonya McKinstry had expressed concern over the city not having considered using the same kind of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 that had earlier been put into place.

Of particular concern is how residents and college students will celebrate next week should the University of Alabama defeat the Ohio State University in the College Football Playoff national championship game.

Maddox said the measures imposed by City Hall last year came before state regulatory bodies adopted similar, if not more stringent, actions regarding mask usage and bar occupancy.

And while he noted that the recent rise in COVID-19 cases has come while college students have been out-of-town on winter break, he did say that the Tuscaloosa Police Department and University of Alabama Police Department would be working in tandem to limit gatherings Monday night before, during and after the Crimson Tide’s final football game.

On January 8th, 2021, Mayor Maddox Tweeted a message saying:

In the upcoming days around the National Championship Game, we all have a role to play in keeping our community safe. Please continue to follow @ALPublicHealth guidelines including wearing a mask and limiting gathering size as you cheer on the Tide. Thank you and Roll Tide!

On the day of the playoff, on Tuscaloosa Police Department‘s Facebook page, Chief Brent Blankley posted:

The City of Tuscaloosa has something very special to celebrate this evening as Crimson Tide fans cheer on the team in the College Football Playoff National Championship. TPD, UAPD and the ABC Board are working together to ensure the safety of our community members. Cheer, celebrate, and enjoy the success of our team, but please do so responsibly and safely. Roll Tide!

There was a continual police presence on The Strip on the day of the game. They observed the activity that began before noon but did nothing to disperse crowds and did not issue citations for mask infractions. After Alabama’s victory, people swarmed out from the bars and nearby student apartments to fill University Boulevard.

USA Today‘s Chris Thomas wrote:

Videos and photos captured on social media showed hundreds, if not thousands, of people on The Strip celebrating the Crimson Tide’s 52- 24 victory over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff on Monday night. Tuscaloosa Police quickly were dispatched to clear a path through town, according to social media reports. The celebration comes as COVID-19 cases are spiking around the country.

Images posted by Operations Support Specialist Lt. Andy Norris on Twitter show before and after shots of the crowd, when police vehicles drove down University Boulevard.

Emily Enfinger in The Tuscaloosa News wrote:

Fourteen people were arrested and two injuries were reported in Tuscaloosa after Alabama football fans flooded The Strip in celebration of the team’s 18th national championship victory late Monday, officials said Tuesday.

Those arrested faced charges ranging from drug paraphernalia, public intoxication, driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental operations, according to officials.

“I think it goes without saying that we are disappointed in seeing the large number of people flood into The Strip area itself,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox in a news conference Tuesday morning. 

Although he did not have an exact estimate of the crowd, he stated it could have been “thousands upon thousands” of people and that the crowd is believed to be “larger than any celebration that we’ve seen in recent memory.”

Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley said that the police department backed up to let the crowd celebrate but after 15 minutes, “something shifted.” People began to climb trees, hang from light poles, property was beginning to be damaged and fights were begging to break out, he said.

Two people were reportedly hit with either beer cans or bottles, leaving cuts on their face, Blankley said. 

“We used as little force as possible to disperse that crowd, but people were starting to get hurt inside the crowd. We asked multiple times for people to disperse but they wouldn’t,” he said.

Police units were also used to divide the crowd. Blankley said bottles were thrown at TPD officers and their vehicles as they were trying to divide the crowd.

Had a curfew been declared prior to the game none of the crowd control problems would likely have existed. (In Ohio where there’s a Covid related 10pm statewide curfew, has Ohio State won, there would in all likelihood not have been a similar situation.) But more ominously, will the championship celebration on The Strip in T-Town turn out be a super-spreader event? It is unfortunate that an incredible sports victory could be marred by the behavior of fans on The Strip.

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Stemming the High Tide of Covid in T-Town

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Tuscaloosa’s Mayor Walt Maddox during a Pre-Council meeting on December 22, 2020, said that he was going to meet with the University of Alabama‘s President Dr. Stuart Bell to discuss the impact of students returning to campus. Maddox was concerned about the consequences of the University’s football team winning the National Championship on January 11th.

He said that Tuscaloosa had entered a “dark season” for the pandemic, with mounting local hospitalizations. How would T-Town fare if University students returned to campus to celebrate a college football national championship? The Mayor said that citations from the Tuscaloosa Police Department for not wearing masks or other violations of state and local Covid-19 orders were paid little notice by students. Instead the student non-academic misconduct citations (SNAMs) issued by the University’s police had “more bite, since they would go on student records.

Any visitor to the University of Alabama campus will observe that most students wear masks. During football games most students were masked as well. On a national basis, most college students are behaving responsibly. CNBC‘s Jessica Dickler reported at the end of 2020 that Covid cases on campuses were surging. She wrote that Princeton‘s President Christopher Eisgruber said, “If we test the campus population regularly, and if everyone on campus rigorously adheres to public health guidance about masking, social distancing and other practices, we can welcome a far greater number of students back.” USA Today’s Suzanne Hirt asked, “Are college COVID-19 cases the fault of campuses full of reckless partiers?” She answered, “No.” She wrote that students were being unfairly shamed and blamed.

From the very start of the pandemic, as TIME‘s Katie Reilly wrote, “coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to fraternities.” The idea of a Farm Party in Tuscaloosa was nixed at the last minute. Many of the establishments in T-Town that have had the most egregious violations of Covid-19 regulations are popular student and Greek hangouts. It is certainly arguable that most students affiliated with Greek organizations have behaved as responsibly as other students. But the Greek lifestyle is uniquely associated with the spread of the Coronavirus.

Since over 35 percent of the undergraduate student body at the University of Alabama are Greeks, an extraordinary situation may exist. If, out of the 11,000 Greeks on campus, only a small number are behaving irresponsibly there still could well be a threat to the community’s public safety. The University has previously taken extraordinary steps to curb the impact of Greek life, as AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande reported on August 21, 2020.

Mayor Walt Maddox and University of Alabama President Stuart Bell will discuss steps that the University can take to mitigate the impact of the University on the health of T-Town. Would further restrictions on the campus Greek community, or even a ban on fraternities until the pandemic subsides, be a successful tactic? Could the University further curtail large off campus gatherings of students, at parties and bars? Will the University of Alabama Police Department be called upon to more aggressively enforce state and local Covid orders?

Most T-Town residents will undoubtedly be as enthusiastic as any students at the University, should the Crimson Tide win another National Championship. It would be tragic if, as a consequence of irresponsible celebrating, the further spread of Covid-19 occurred.

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“Covid ain’t going away in 2021.”

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After he sent an email to Clay Helms (Alabama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Director of Elections) asking about about the use of absentee ballots for the upcoming municipal election, John Earl received a reply: “The Governor’s emergency does not extend that far into 2021.”

Earl replied, “Covid ain’t going away in 2021.”

Jason Morton wrote in the Tuscaloosa News:

It’s too early to tell right now, but some local voters hope the exceptions allowed for absentee voting in last month’s general election will extend to next year’s municipal vote.

The Alabama secretary of state’s office said the emergency order that allowed for absentee voting by anyone concerned by the coronavirus did not extend to March 2021.

The city of Tuscaloosa’s city council and board of education election is set for March 2, and some voters believe that’s too early for in-person voting.

“The pandemic isn’t going to go away in 2021,” said Tuscaloosa resident and voter John Earl. “Even if there is an effective vaccine, there should be another year in which people should take precautions.”

Earl, 73, said he reached out to the secretary of state’s office to ask about the absentee voting extension, and he provided The Tuscaloosa News with the response he received from Clay Helms, the deputy chief of staff and director of elections for Secretary of State John Merrill.

Earl, as well as municipal election official and City Clerk Carly Standridge, said they’re hopeful that the governor and secretary of state’s office allows for the same kind of consideration in March.

“I’m 73 and have, to a great extent, been self-isolating for fear of being infected with the coronavirus,” Earl said, noting that University of Alabama students were driven “in droves” by limos to his municipal polling location in 2013. “I don’t know if that situation could arise again, but I refused to vote at the site (in the general election) because of (his polling place) being on campus.”

Even though many people in Alabama are receiving vaccines, people should still be diligent in their personal behavior. That would include, of course, wearing masks and social distancing. But, it also should involve avoiding crowds, like the ones that exist at polling places.

The Montgomery Advertiser‘s Melissa Brown reported that “Alabama will receive just under 41,000 doses in the first round of Pfizer vaccine distribution.” She wrote that Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama Department of Public Health Health Officer, has said that “pandemic precautions must be maintained for the foreseeable future.”

Ryan Phillips wrote in The Patch:

The city of Tuscaloosa will soon request Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to extend her emergency executive order through March 2 in an effort to allow for the same expansive absentee voting opportunities offered during the November General Election.

Mayor Walt Maddox said his office had already been in contact with the governor’s office and Secretary of State John Merrill, saying without the emergency order, the Secretary of State doesn’t have the ability to allow the city to expand absentee voting for its March 2 municipal election.

Many people believe that any behavior mandated by a government in response to the pandemic somehow limits their “freedom.”

Smith College Professor of Government Martha Ackelsberg wrote an essay in The Conversation about “freedom.” She opined:

The laws and policies that governments enact set the framework for the exercise of our rights. So, inaction on the part of government does not necessarily empower citizens. It can, effectively, take away our power, leaving us less able to act to address our needs.

As Thomas Hobbes recognized almost four centuries ago, if everyone just does what they please, no one can trust anyone. We end up with chaos, uncertainty and a “war of all against all.”

Rights become worthless.

This paradox – of the need for government to enable the effective pursuit of individual aims – is particularly extreme in the situation of COVID-19 and its attendant economic crisis. Amid a rampaging pandemic, people have rights to do many things, but are they really free to exercise them?

People may know, for example, that if everyone wore a mask in the presence of others, maintained social distance and avoided large crowds, it would be relatively safe to be out in public. But that goal cannot be achieved by voluntary individual actions alone, since the benefits are achieved only when most or all of us participate.

The only way to assure that everyone will be wearing a mask — understood as an act of community and collective care, an action taken to protect others, as well as ourselves — is for the government to require mask-wearing because it is needed for the protection of life.

The ability to exercise the rights to work, to shop or to go to school depends upon having a relatively safe public space in which to operate. In turn, that requires all of us to attend to the rights and safety of others, as well as of ourselves.

Government is the means by which such attending — caring — is expressed and accomplished. It is only when people can count on others to be concerned for one another that they can truly be free to act, and exercise their rights, in the public arena.

The state of Alabama has a Safer-at-Home order that will, as reported by WAFF/48, last until January 21, 2021. It requires social distancing and mask wearing. The city of Tuscaloosa has based its own regulations on the state’s order. Although, as Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Maddox has recently said, “Tuscaloosa is in a danger zone for community spread and hospitalizations,” he does not think that a “lockdown” will be effective. City offices are closed and activities, such as Holidays on the River, have been postponed. He believes that a shutdown would essentially be a “curfew” that would apply only to the city of Tuscaloosa. He said that the “exceptions embedded in federal and states laws” are punitive to small businesses.

But, as professor Ackelsberg has pointed out, the ability to go to school, to work and to shop depends on government providing a safe public space.

Obviously, in T-Town the right to vote without risking one’s health also should be guaranteed by government. And that will depend on whether the state’s emergency executive order will be extended.

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Covid: the Chamber, the City and Christmas in T-Town

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On December 7th, 2020, Tuscaloosa News reporter Jason Morton wrote: “With COVID-19 cases on a continual climb in the Tuscaloosa area, city officials are taking initial steps to minimize crowds and reduce gatherings. On Monday, City Hall announced that access to all city-owned facilities would be temporarily limited or halted. The decision comes as DCH Health System reported four straight days of 100 or more inpatients suffering from COVID-19, with a total of 138 listed on Monday.”

Some of the city’s concerns doubtlessly were due to the numbers of city personnel who are out with Covid. But the dramatic increase in Coronavirus cases after the Thanksgiving holiday and Iron Bowl were troubling.

As Jason Morton reported in another Tuscaloosa News story:

With four straight days of 100 or more inpatients at DCH Health System who are battling COVID-19, local health and government officials on Monday urged all residents to remain vigilant against the spread of the novel coronavirus. Andy North described as an “ebb and flow” of patient load, the local health system has not become overwhelmed by the influx of new patients suffering from COVID-19.

No patients, or at least not enough to be statistically relevant, age 24 or younger have died. However, about 5.3% of those in the 50-64 age range have died, based on the latest DCH data.

And while the pending vaccine may help reduce these numbers even further, North said DCH isn’t expecting to have any doses available until the end of the year, at the earliest.

“We are hoping for sooner rather than later,” North said, “because even with the flexibility we’ve put into place, we are under a heavy load.”

Although the use of city facilities is being curtailed, there are no plans to close such places as bars, which are considered by pandemic experts to be Covid hot spots. As Morton reported: “Maddox said there were no immediate plans to institute limitations on businesses or public gatherings at the local level beyond what Gov. Kay Ivey’s latest ‘Safer at Home’ order already requires.”

At the Pre-Council meeting on December 8th, 2020, Mayor Maddox said that he had discussed with the Chief Medical Officer at DCH Dr. Robin Wilson the possibility that cases of Covid-19 will be layered. This would be the case when each holiday period –Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years–brought on a new wave of infections.

It was only at the beginning of December, during the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama’s annual “State of the Economy” meeting, that speakers bemoaned the effect that Covid regulations had on the economic outlook. Jason Morton wrote:

“We have a lot of the ingredients in place for a recipe for economic growth,” said John Norris V, founder and managing director of wealth and investments with Mountain Brook-based Oakworth Capital Bank. “The biggest impediment to U.S. growth going forward is going to be our politicians.”

“The enemy is us. The enemy is the politicians and whether they’re going to shut down the economy again.”

The city’s reluctance to go beyond the state of Alabama‘s “Safer At Home” order may have had legal justifications. There were two City Council members at least who had justified their approval of a liquor license for the University of Alabama‘s Kappa Delta Farm Party on the basis that the city might have been sued. (The party was eventually nixed by the University though.) WSFA/12‘s Kelvin Reynolds reported, “Both City Council [Kip Tyner and Sonya McKinstry] members said the city could have been at risk of being sued if they didn’t approve the license under the circumstances.”

Throughout the country and the world, for that matter, either closures or strict limitations have been placed on many businesses. 84% of California‘s population, as reported in the LA Times, is affected by a massive shutdown.

Mayor Walt Maddox, if nothing else, is certainly a politician. He seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, there are conditions that have warranted shutting down city facilities. On the other, is the Chamber, where one of its speakers said that politicians are the “enemies.” Of course, if the healthcare system ever reaches a critical enough state, Maddox will have no choice in instituting another “lockdown.” The Chamber will doubtlessly support another such necessary lockdown.

During the last lockdown, essential services were maintained. People were still allowed to go to work, shop for groceries, exercise outdoors, have their cars worked on, go to doctors, and make deposits in banks. But businesses such as restaurants and bars weren’t allowed to operate. Many of the hardest hit businesses were small and locally owned. As a consequence, the city had a business relief program and even a relief package specifically for bars.

Many of the problems associated with bars involved those who had large numbers of University students. The city had occupancy limits, but some establishments were still allowed to have as many as 150 patrons. In many cities there was a cap for the number of people allowed at bars. The city’s legal staff has insisted that it is constrained by the guidelines of the state and Alabama Beverage Control. The mayor has also repeatedly emphasized the inability of the Tuscaloosa Police Department to enforce the Covid laws.

What may ultimately be a redeeming force in combating the spread of the Coronavirus will be the University of Alabama‘s enforcement of limitations on off-campus student gatherings. University police have already issued many student non-academic misconduct citations (SNAMs) for such things as house parties. The decision of the University to revoke permission for the Kappa Delta Farm Party was a good sign. Will the University be able to continue to lay down the law and impose penalties that will deter large gatherings at house parties or bars? It may well be that only the University has any true jurisdiction when it comes to regulating student behavior. Many University students will stay in T-Town for the holidays, although most will leave Tuscaloosa. Hopefully the University’s police force will still have a presence during the holiday period.

Approximately 25,000 University students should be returning to Tuscaloosa in January and whatever respite their absence may have provided will be over just as soon as the year 2021 begins. To a great extent Tuscaloosa‘s ability to cope with the Coronavirus will depend on the behavior of University students. That will be largely up to how well the University of Alabama‘s administration can control its students.

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Thanksgiving & The Iron Bowl — a Double Whammy!

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At the Pre-Council meeting on November 24, 2020, Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox said that Tuscaloosa has had the highest seven day average of cases since Covid-19 began. He said that there were increases in the numbers of hospitalizations as well. Maddox said that the Iron Bowl football game between Alabama and Auburn was a “very dangerous time” for the city.

Naming the annual football match up between the University of Alabama and Auburn University the Iron Bowl came as the result of the game having been played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama for forty years. Birmingham was at one time a major producer of iron and steel, as explained in the Bham Wiki. It was considered a neutral site for the heated interstate football rivalry. But since 2000 the Iron Bowl has been played in both Tuscaloosa and Auburn, in alternating years.

The Iron Bowl was of such significance that ESPN‘s College Gameday was for the second time in 2020 broadcast from Tuscaloosa, even though the game had been televised on CBS-TV. The Crimson Tide was ranked as the number one team in college football. The annual Iron Bowl game had traditionally been a hard fought contest, where a top ranked team had been sometimes beaten by its lesser rival. The fact that Alabama‘s head coach Nick Saban would not preside over the team, after he had tested positive for COVID-19, only added another level of interest to the game.

There had been a concern that large numbers of fans would visit T-Town again, as in the case of the Mississippi State game on October 31st. Many people who had come to town were not among the relatively few who had tickets to the game. The 20% capacity for Bryant-Denny Stadium and the ban on tailgating on campus did not deter fans from returning to their football Mecca on Halloween. Many fans did not wear masks or socially distance as they flocked to the bars after the game on University Boulevard. And Halloween parties went on in T-Town until the early morning hours.

A week after the October 31st game, from November 4th to the 10th, the numbers of new Covid-19 patients in Tuscaloosa rose dramatically. A major spike in the student non-academic misconduct citations (SNAM) issued by the University of Alabama’s Police Department occurred on October 31st, largely due to off-campus partying.

Mayor Maddox asked, “How will Thanksgiving and the Iron Bowl impact the spread of the Coronavirus?”

He was not alone in showing concern over how the Thanksgiving holiday might spread the Covid-19 virus.

CNN‘s Christina Maxouris reported that Thanksgiving could be the “the mother of all superspreader events.” She wrote:

With small gatherings already helping drive the surge in many places, leading public health officials have warned against traditional Thanksgiving celebrations this week, instead urging Americans to stay home and celebrate only with members of the same household. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommended last week Americans should not travel for Thanksgiving.

Many doctors in Alabama had pleaded for its residents to wear masks, as reported by Al.com‘s Amy Yurkanin. She quoted Dr. Monica Williams, an emergency room doctor in Huntsville, as having said, “This has been through the mill a thousand times. It’s just wear your freaking mask and wash your hands. That’s really the best you can do. Don’t go to parties.”

As a double whammy, Thanksgiving in 2020 was closely followed by the Iron Bowl in T-Town. It would have been expected, judging by the behavior of fans in the past, that fans would not wear masks and would certainly party in large groups in bars or at off-campus parties.

November came to an end in T-Town in a very dangerous way.

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Somewhere Over The Rainbow

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Just as a tornado whisked Dorothy away in the classic Wizard of Oz movie, the University of Alabama‘s Kappa Delta Farm Party was suddenly taken away from University of Alabama students.

The last minute cancellation Farm Party may have had a sister or two of the sorority contemplating the song that Judy Garland sang in the Wizard of Oz. Was there ever such a mystical land where a Farm Party could take place in the midst of a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic?

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Oh, somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
Clouds high over the rainbow, makes all your dreams come true, ooh

Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?

News about the party’s cancellation was reported throughout the world. The Daily Mail‘s Ariel Zilber  wrote:

A spokesperson for the University of Alabama told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening that ‘the sorority ended up canceling this event.’ The ‘farm party’ is an annual event held by the sorority, according to the Franklin Stove Blog, which was the first to report the city council vote last week.

The party first received international attention after the Daily Beast‘s Olivia Messer wrote a story “Alabama Sorority Gets Official Blessing for 600-Person Farm Party Just in Time for Holidays.” She called it a “Recipe for Disaster.”

Messer questioned the wisdom of the Tuscaloosa City Council‘s having approved the event:

Why did the school, and the city’s leaders, endorse a massive, alcohol-fueled party right before sending students home for the holidays?

“It’s appalling and dangerous,” 61-year-old radiation therapist Louise Manos told The Daily Beast, arguing that “the four members of the city council who voted in favor of this are sanctioning a superspreader event.”

As of Tuesday, there were 11,886 confirmed cumulative cases of COVID-19 in Tuscaloosa County, with 148 deaths. There were 76 new cases overnight, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and local reports indicate that infections of the virus have been rising in recent weeks.

But the city council voted last Tuesday to approve a special events retail license for the Kappa Delta Farm Party, to be held on Nov. 17 at a venue called Black Warrior Farms. The move—at a time when so-called Third Wave coronavirus cases are skyrocketing and holiday travel was expected to feed new clusters—befuddled everyone from locals to frontline medical workers to university employees.

“This will be worse because of the college students who will be… drinking and dancing,” the lifelong Tuscaloosa resident added. “These party-goers will be going home for Thanksgiving next week and possibly taking COVID home to elderly relatives.”

Messer, when contacted by the Franklin Stove Blog, said “I got a bunch of emails about the party, but one person sent over your blog as the most comprehensive publicly available information. Thanks for writing it.”

An article written by the Tuscaloosa NewsJason Morton reported that “residents both in and outside of Tuscaloosa questioned the decision-making that went into sanctioning the event, particularly that of the City Council that gave a final blessing for the party during its Nov. 10 meeting.”

The Washington Post‘s Meryl Kornfield wrote:

A vestige of large alcohol-laden blowouts held at colleges before the coronavirus pandemic, the ‘Farm Party’-themed function was planned for about 600 attendees — split into three phases of 200 people each to reduce capacity, with time to sanitize the venue between each round.

Michael Innis-Jiménez, an American studies professor at the school and a member of the campus’s workers union, told The Post he was “stunned” such an event was allowed to take place. The alcohol license for the event was approved by the city council in a 4-to-2 vote, and the school said the sorority could proceed if it followed “extensive rules and safety guidelines.”

The story about the Farm Party found its way into such disparate media outlets as: the Intercontinental News, News For Finance, NewsColony, RokzFast, Newswep, DUK News, TopSpot 247, Daily Echoed, News & Gossips, and Dope Albums.

At the City Council meeting, Brandon Hanks of Downtown Entertainment LLC said, “I hope that you guys give a little bit of thought to this coming spring because these kids are going to be coming back, and I don’t know how long we can continue to keep them coming back if they don’t have a college experience to come back to.”

The City of Tuscaloosa at one time had been asked by the University of Alabama to close its bars because of concerns over the Coronavirus. Now the city’s occupancy based limits at bars allow as many as 150 patrons at a time. Some people have questioned how an outdoor event of 200 people would be worse than having 150 people indoors

With colleges throughout the nation either strictly limiting or outlawing gatherings of students, the question might be asked — “Why would the University of Alabama ever approve the Farm Party in the first place?” The party, with its 200 students at a time, exceeded its own guidelines for outdoor gatherings, which stated: “Outdoor events with more than 100 attendees are impermissible.”

Harvard University‘s rules for outdoor events on campus limit the number to 25 people, stipulating that “for indoor gatherings, participants should be limited to 10 and must also have no more than 8 people per 1000 sq feet accessible space.” Furthermore the school discouraged any indoor gatherings. These regulations are based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) guidance. According to an article by the United State Fire Administration, the radius of the 6 feet (which is recommended by the CDC for social distancing) is equal to approximately 113 square feet per person.

CNN‘s Leah Asmelash wrote about the unique problems associated with fraternal organizations on campus:

Were colleges ever going to crack down on Greek Life? No one has stopped issues — including sexual violence, hazing and racism — that have plagued those groups for years.

A huge part of it is money, as many big donors are insistent Greek Life continue. Attempts at cracking down on them are often met with backlash from wealthy alumni, putting universities in a bind.

Just what is the “college experience” that Brandon Hanks has referred to? Does it involve, as Meryl Kornfield wrote, “large alcohol-laden blowouts”?

Is merely going to football games, congregating with other students on campus or studying for an exam in the library not enough of a “college experience”? If students stop returning to the University because of a lack of a party atmosphere, Tuscaloosa‘s economy will be impacted. Will the mega-developments that constitute virtual mansions near the football stadium and the palatial fraternity and sorority houses, that Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan has written about, be emptied?

That is something that the City Council will have to weigh heavily when the next alcohol license for a large Greek gathering is proposed in T-Town.

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Down on the Farm with Covid-19

Photo by Magali Guimaru00e3es on Pexels.com

The Tuscaloosa City Council had been unprepared for an item on its November 10, 2020 Council agenda. The Council had been called upon to approve a special events license for the field party, called the Farm Party, that the University of Alabama‘s Kappa Delta sorority has traditionally held each year. Sororities at the University of Alabama don’t have the facilities to stage big parties so their events must be off-campus.

In previous years it would have been a routine vote, but in 2020 the Covid pandemic had put the party, to be held on fourteen secluded acres of farmland, in the spotlight. Party goers would be transported the six miles from the University to Black Warrior Farms on several buses.

There is a cottage industry in T-Town that has served the University’s Greek community. It has involved everything from custom tee-shirts for parties to providing alcohol for events. In the case of the Farm Party it almost seemed as if the event was organized with a one-stop shopping service.

The application for the license was made by Downtown Entertainment LLC. Its registered agent is Brandon Hanks. He owns The Booth which is a bar that has been a popular hangout for Greeks and other students. The Booth was featured in a documentary on The Strip that Mark Hughes Cobb wrote about in the Tuscaloosa News.

The Farm Party was put together by Special Events Management whose Vice President is Casey Johnson. Special Events Management is affiliated with Music Garden, which lists itself as the “Southeast’s most recognized entertainment agency.”

Music Garden’s Tuscaloosa agent is Nick Wright. He is also the President of JNJ Apparel, which has the same address as Special Events Management. JNJ Apparel claims to offer “the largest collection of Greek Apparel, Gifts, Accessories, and more for over 100 Greek Sororities and Fraternities.” ( It can be found online at FindGreek.com ) Wright is also listed as the agent/organizer for Special Events Management by Open Corporates.

Both Brandon Hanks and Casey Johnson appeared before the Council to plead their case for the special license for the Farm Party.

The party was scheduled as an outdoor event where the body temperature of participants would be digitally scanned as a precaution. Katie Kerwin McCrimmon of UCHealth explained that “Studies show that at least 40-to-50% of people who test positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms.” Party goers who didn’t have a high temperature could well be super-spreaders at such an event.

The University of Alabama does not require sentinel testing of its students, although other schools have mandated testing for Covid infections. The University of Notre Dame, as CNN reporter Allen Kim wrote, is requiring all students to be tested. “Students who fail to appear for testing or leave the area without their results will not be able to register for the spring semester or receive a transcript.”

The University of Alabama has had social event guidelines that limit the size of gatherings. “Outdoor events with more than 100 attendees and indoor events with more than 50 attendees are impermissible, absent special approval from the Vice President of Student Life or their designee.” Plans for the Farm Party involved gatherings of 200 students.

At an event where a loud band is playing, the likelihood of mask wearing and social distancing is not very great. Also, when people are drinking they are more likely to exhibit risky behavior. The Farm Party may end up resembling the concert that took place at Rhythm and Brews that received national publicity because of unsafe behavior. However, what goes on at the farm may stay at the farm, unless there are social media posts.

During the Pre-Council meeting, when the license was first brought up, two City Council members expressed concern. Lee Busby and Eddie Pugh questioned whether approving the party would would be consistent with the city’s order on Covid safety.  Busby raised the question of fairness to the businesses, who have observed occupancy limits and followed state Covid orders, if an event were to be allowed to exceed those limits. 

Busby said, “Two or three months ago one of my concerns was, as the University has gone to great lengths to shut down its large party events, that we not end up in the position of simply reopening that box down at this end of University Boulevard or even further down. Do we have any idea of what kind of supervision over the site or inspection that an event like this has?”

Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer Vincent Brown replied that charter buses were being used for transportation.

Busby said that that might end problems with drunk driving.

Brown replied, “We hope so. They don’t allow them outside of the event area. They have it cordoned off to make sure that no one comes in or leaves the event area. They have food and beverages and usually a band and they just party.”

Busby said, “I know.”

Council President Cynthia Almond asked, “I thought the University doesn’t allow big events, on or off campus?”

Brown replied, “That is what the University has said. Initially when officer Burkhalter [Code Enforcement Officer David Burkhalter] spoke to someone at the University, they said they were totally against it. The applicant then talked to the University and informed them that they’d been doing this event for the past two years. They haven’t had any issues or problems. Then the University said okay. They’d allow it. Officer Burkhalter has spoken to the University again but I have not spoken to him since. He hasn’t called me and said that the University says ‘no.’ So I’m assuming it’s still on.”

Busby said, “I’ll talk to the University some time this afternoon just to retake their temperature reading.”

“My broader concern is this is for a sorority group where, by definition, three quarters of the people there are under the legal age of drinking. And in an environment, where we are busting the TPD for them to check masks, social distancing and house parties, it gives me pause to ask some harder questions about events where we as the City Council are sanctioning it, with the city event license.”

Council member Eddie Pugh said that he agreed. “We’re monitoring bars and restaurants and we’ve done bailouts. Now we’re going to send a bunch of people right outside the city limits to do something we don’t allow in the city.”

Assistant City Attorney Scott Holmes said that the city had been unable to enforce the state safety orders that apply to social distancing. If the prohibition against unmasked people from different households being closer than six feet apart were enforced, that would not allow bars and restaurants to operate. Therefore, as a compromise, the city created occupancy limits. He said that the Alabama Beverage Control (ABC) had a “million different restrictions.” New ABC orders have now placed liability on the licensee for failure to enforce mask wearing. Formally citations could only be issued to individuals. In any event the Tuscaloosa Police Department would be the supervisory body regarding the state orders.

The following is an account of what transpired at the Council meeting, when the approval of the special license was considered. Although Mayor Walt Maddox‘s daughter was a member of Kappa Delta, he remained neutral and said that any decision would be up to the Council.

In the hours between the time the Pre-Council meeting occurred and the time of the Council meeting, Casey Johnson had spoken by phone to Council members.

Council member Lee Busby: “So Downtown Entertainment is the applicant? Then I assume that is Casey… You’re the one who called me. Your organization’s role is…?

Casey Johnson: I’m with Special Events Management. We are a vendor here in town that works with Greek organizations across the University campus. We help them plan their events. We work with about 25 venues in town. We also provide busing for them. We are an agent of a business called Music Garden which provides entertainment.

Council member Sonya McKinstry said that she was “very concerned about Covid. But I want to thank you for organizing it in a certain way…and breaking it down so that you have three different shifts…that you limit the numbers to to two hundred and that you’re going to be enforcing the masks…and the buses are going to be cleaned.

“So, hearing that, it gives me confidence that there are not going to be a thousand kids out there with no responsibility. So I want to thank you for taking all that into consideration and trying to comply.”

Casey Johnson: “I want to make sure that the Council understands that this is not a group of 600, 800 or a 1000 people at the event at one time. This will be done in shifts. So we will have essentially a six hour party. They will sign up for three different shifts. They will load up on a bus. They are not allowed to come in any other way to the venue.

“They will come in at one shift at a time. They will be there approximately for an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five minutes. There will not be more than 200 people at a time on the premise. In talking about the size of the venue…”

Brandon Hanks: “It’s fourteen acres, a large, large area.”

Casey Johnson: “And I think that’s something that has not been communicated. We are breaking this up. We are trying to do everything that is possible so that it will be a safe environment for them. we have a certain perimeter. They will not be able to leave that perimeter. Before they go on to the bus their temperature is taken digitally. And there are are things that Kappa Delta has put into place. they have to follow ADPH, the CDC, what the University has put in front of them and steps that their own national organization has made them take.

“So by doing that, we are doing everything that we can to break up those events while sanitizing and keeping things on the buses clean so when they are transported back and forth they are put into contact with something that we can’t take care of with quick sanitation.

Busby asked Hanks who would provide “supervisory oversight.”

Hanks: “I’m present at all of the functions that happen at Black Warrior Farm and we use multiple sources on the security side of it. There are about three local companies. We get them out of Birmingham as well. At the site, when they first come in, the sorority will have them check their ACT cards. They have to scan in make sure they’ve left the facility, have gotten to the facility and are allowed to be at the facility.

“At the same time, we’ll be checking IDs to see if they are above the age of 21. We also have our own staff of ten or more people to walk the perimeter and make sure no one is trying to leave the confines of the bicycle route we have set up. It’s pretty much that and the bar staff that is associated with the responsible vendor program.”

Busby: “So the ACT card allows them to come in. The ACT card, unlike the out of state drivers licenses, is a tough one to forge.”

Hanks: “A lot of times they’re going to send somebody… send a monitor, so that as they come in, they will tell you, ‘No, she’s definitely not above 21’ and they’re ‘X’ed out and can’t come back in. We keep a continuous bus flow going out as well as going in. If somebody sees someone with a drink, it’s discarded and they’re put back on the bus. They’re headed back. They’re done.”

Busby: “How’s an event like this insured?”

Hanks: “We actually have not only the property owner, who has a full blanket policy, but we have a blanket policy through our provider, the Fitts Agency, for the alcohol side of it. And then every single vendor has its own blanket policy, covering everything from the Porta Potties, the security, the stage, the tent company…everybody has to have a full policy.

Busby asked City Attorney Glenda Webb if there was any “coordination between your office and the University in line with their policy?”

Webb: “At this point, we don’t have any outstanding issues.”

Busby: Your understanding is that this gathering is in compliance with the University student guidelines?

Johnson: “Yes sir. Everything that we did to provide information to Dr. Pope [Myron L. Pope, Vice President, Student Life Leadership Team] and to his office was gathered from all of us. It was a collective effort to answer all of the questions that were pertaining to this event. On the 28th of last month, it was requested by his office that Kappa Delta go ahead and put this on, because it had been approved for them to have this event.”

Busby: “Just an unofficial suggestion…given the current environment and the uncertainty…I think this being the first one we’ve had come before us, unlike previous years where they’re more or less routine, I think we would’ve been better served for you to do some early coordination prior to showing up here for a vote. It seems like a lot preparation went into this. I think earlier, informal coordination would better serve you in the current environment.”

Council member Eddie Pugh: “What do you do if you have rain or bad weather?”

Hanks: If it’s lightning, then it’s probably over and we would move it toi a later date. If it’s just rain, we have a large 40X100 foot tent and some smaller tents as well.

“I don’t believe we’ve ever had to cancel one due to weather but if there’s any lightning in the area, it’s done. It’s over. We’ll have to call it and move it down the road.”

Pugh: “We’ve never had these guidelines before from the state.”

Hanks: “No. Absolutely not.”

Pugh: “Will there be room to socially distance and do all that…”

Hanks: “With 200, yes. With the normal ones we’ve had in the past, we wouldn’t be able to get those kinds of numbers in the tent and also social distance.”

Council President Cynthia Almond: “I was just going to comment and say this is a difficult thing for me. Like Mr. Busby said, I know a lot of hard work and preparation has gone into this. Kids want to have a good time. I want to support that. But we have recently shut down businessses and not allowed this kind of activity. Today we’ve had a report that our numbers locally are increasing. We have more people in the hospital and more people with Covid than we’ve had in the last few weeks. That’s pretty concerning. And I have a real concern about the ability of these kids, these young adults, to socially distance. I don’t think they will. They won’t wear their masks or stay six feet apart while they’re at this party. I’ve got a real concern about that.

“And then they’re going to go home for Thanksgiving. That’s a safety and health concern that I have. I have a lot of friends who will be upset with me about that. So I won’t do it lightly.

“I do hope that, in the future, if you want to do things like this that we can coordinate more upfront in a way in which we can all feel comfortable.”

Hanks: “I understand that. Moving forward into the Spring we’re going to come back in the same boat that we’re now in. I feel that if you guys should actually take a look at it and see one of the parties. I think you can’t find a better facility, if we break it up, as far as being Covid friendly.

“Everything I’m doing right now with my businesses is outside and I’m still running into problems. Covid is basically hitting us at every single angle but we’re doing all we can. But I hope you guys give a little thought to this: Coming this Spring, the kids are going to be coming back and I don’t know how long we can continue to keep them coming back if they don’t have a college experience.”

Busby asked Tuscaloosa Police Department Deputy Chief Sebo Sanders about TPD’s role.

Busby: Do we normally make an appearance at one of these?

Sanders: “It all depends.”

Busby: “Because we discussed at the Pre-Council if it’s out of city limits…”

Sanders: “It’s in the police jurisdiction. It all depends on the traffic or complaints that we get coming in.”

McKinstry said she’d vote for the license but that she wasn’t happy. She said that she wished the University would have taken more responsibility and not have put the Council in a bad position. She said that she hoped the Council could “put some brakes on” any events in the future.

Johnson: “I’d like to speak to that.” She said that the parties were “extremely, extremely, extremely expensive.”

“They have put people back to work who have not been able to work for the past 6 or 7 months. We would have loved to have worked with you.”

Busby said that normally license approvals are routine.

Council member Kip Tyner said that he’d been at high school football games every Saturday night. He brought up the financial crisis he routinely mentions when any Covid restrictions are discussed.

Pugh said that, if the University had given the go ahead for the party, it was disappointing since the University had asked the city at one time that restaurants and bar be shut down. He said that the Council had not been kept updated on University policies, and that the University was “putting the load on us so that we would be the bad guys.”

Johnson: “The driving force is for these venues to be to able to be back in business–for these musicians to be able to have Christmas gifts for their kids. All of these things are going to be put in jeopardy.”

Mayor Walt Maddox said that he’d have the city staff reach out to Dr. Pope’s office to “see what scale and scope the city would be seeing in the future.”

The Council voted to approve the license for the November 17, 2020 event, with Busby and Almond casting the only no votes.

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Shot dead on The Strip

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

After the shooting death of nineteen year old Schuyler Bradley, included in the account by Emily Enfinger in the Tuscaloosa News, was: “‘There is no reason to believe that there is any ongoing threat to the Strip or University area as a result of this incident,’ said Violent Crimes Unit Capt. Jack Kennedy.”

The circumstances behind the tragic death of Bradley haven’t been published as yet in the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White, but Jeremy Hogan‘s article in The Bloomingtonian reported: “Bradley was visiting friends in Tuscaloosa to watch Saturday’s football game between Alabama and Georgia.”

In the Indiana Daily Student, Avraham Forrest gave an account of a Sunday Vigil that took place in Bloomington, Indiana, for the Indiana University student:

A vigil for late IU student Schuyler Bradley was held in Dunn Meadow on Sunday night. Bradley was shot early Friday morning in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and died later that day.

“This is the first place besides my home that I’ve been since he’s passed, and honestly I didn’t want to come,” Bradley’s mother Daphne Groff said “But I was sort of excited because I knew people were going to be here but I didn’t think it was going to be this many people.”

Much of Bradley’s family attended the event, mourning the late IU student along with other students. Ghiche Bradley, Schuyler’s older brother, said his late sibling was a good person and that people noticed it. He said his brother was a hard worker and loved his family. 

“He loves hard,” Ghiche said. “He loves his friends, loves his family.”

Shootings have occurred on University Boulevard in the past. The Franklin Stove Blog‘s “Saturday Nights in T-Town” deals with the fighting by inebriated youth that has occurred.

In the case of nineteen year old Schuyler Bradley, the suspected shooter Zachary Profozich was a twenty-two year old man.

Stephen Dethrage reported in the Tuscaloosa Thread that the “22-year-old accused of fatally shooting a man near the Tuscaloosa Strip early Friday morning told several people that he believed his 19-year-old victim was reaching for a gun, according to new court documents filed this week.”

It has not been reported whether the use of alcohol was a factor in the death of Bradley but, considering the fact that the shooting occurred near the campus bars on the Strip, it could well be assumed that drinking was involved in the argument that precipitated the shooting.

Tuscaloosa‘s Mayor Walt Maddox, during a Pre-Council meeting on October 20, commented on the Tuscaloosa Police Department‘s experience during the Georgia/Alabama football weekend. He said, “We continue to see a disturbing number of young people, 21 and younger, being served and that is not going to be tolerated. we’ve got to insure that only 21 year-olds and older, that can be legally served, are being served, because we’ve had some very disturbing incidences that we feel that we’ve had more than in the past.”

Maddox has rarely, if at all, mentioned under-aged drinkers being served at bars during his Pre-Council briefings. Of course, the shooting of Bradley may not have been one of the “disturbing incidences” that provoked his comment.

The crackdown on under-aged drinking that the Maddox is seeking, which will involve additional training of bar personnel in recognizing fake IDs, may result in less risky behavior by minors.

Whether alcohol was involved in the death of Schuyler Bradley or not, other disturbing incidences that occurred on a football weekend may help prevent another such shooting in T-Town.

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Trick or Treat in T-Town in the time of Covid

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Strange days have found Tuscaloosa. On its Facebook page the City of Tuscaloosa has a cover photo of a Halloween pumpkin carved with the letters “TUSCABOOSA.” Perhaps the scariest thing this Halloween in T-Town is the recent uptick in COVID-19 positives at the University of Alabama.

On September 24, 2020, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox’s executive order, limiting occupancy at bars, was loosened. On September 28th, the Alabama Beverage Control‘s operating hours for bars were extended past 11pm. By October 9th there were signs of increased COVID 19 infections at the University of Alabama, as reported by AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande.

The first University of Alabama home football game was played on October 3rd, 2020, in front of a greatly reduced number of 20,000 fans. The crowds that lined up to get into campus bars before and after the game did not all consist of ticket holders for the game played in Bryant-Denny Stadium. People were not wearing masks or socially distancing in and outside of the stadium. The impact of the first home game on spreading the Coronavirus has yet to be seen.

Slate‘s Molly Olmstead wrote about the importance of football at the University of Alabama. in her article “Pandemic Life at the Most Football-Mad College in America,” she observed:

To be a college student at Alabama this fall is to be, as the New York Times put it, a participant in a “high-stakes experiment.”

Parties are thought to be a major source of campus outbreaks, and the University of Alabama is the No. 1 party school in the nation. The state itself has a fairly high infection rate, which means students visiting home might return to campus with COVID. And football season has only just begun.

Students and faculty told me that as long as there was football and as long as there were students on campus, it was naive to expect better numbers. College football is more popular here than anywhere else in America, and fans traveled from all over the state to Bryant-Denny Stadium for the first home game last weekend. According to reports from the game, roughly half of the students who attended took their masks off. And many who couldn’t land tickets headed to bars and restaurants.

Generations of Alabamians are drawn to the university because they’ve grown up watching Crimson Tide football on television. If you ask out-of-state and sometimes even international students why they chose to attend the 65th-ranked public school in America, many will tell you it’s because it seemed like a quintessentially Southern experience, with football and Greek life and the partying that comes with it. There are Alabamians who live their lives around football season, Alabamians for whom it is their one big annual expense.

“Football matters; it’s a huge factor in peoples’ lives,” said Christopher Lynn, an anthropology professor at the school. “Faculty are cynical about football, but they don’t understand how many students come to Alabama because they don’t know where they want to go to college, but they know it’s fun.”

One University of Alabama tradition that is not likely to be carried out in the same way, if at all, in 2020 is Trick-or-Treat on Sorority Row. Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan did an article last year about the event, where children in the community played games with and were given candy by sorority members from the Alabama Panhellenic Association, National Pan-Hellenic Council and the United Greek Council.

Throughout the country, with the Capstone‘s Greeks being no exception, sororities and fraternities have had high COVID-19 positives. CNN‘s Leah Asmelash explained it in this way:

Across the country, entire sorority and fraternity houses have been put on lockdown following outbreaks of the virus, as partying and social gathering are baked into the very essence of that culture.

At the University of Washington, 15 of the 45 houses on Greek Row have cases of Covid-19, as according to NPR’s Eilis O’Neill.

A second, even larger coronavirus outbreak on the University of Washington’s Greek Row has onlookers worried that those cases could lead to infections in the broader community. And it’s raised questions about whether the school can control the spread of Covid.

O’Neill reported that social distancing has been difficult to maintain.

Right now, students are hearing they should stay six feet from everyone, including intimate partners. A Harvard epidemiologist says that’s not realistic, and it would be easier to control the spread if the school gave the students more reasonable guidelines.

The Danse Macabre was characterized by Bethany C. Gotschall, in her Atlas Obscura article “A Brief History of the ‘Danse Macabre’,” as “a medieval allegory about the inevitability of death.” Survivors of the bubonic plague and the Hundred Year’s War staged elaborate All Souls’ Day parades. Gotschall wrote that “the macabre imagery” of the parades may have been a precursor to the Halloween holiday, with its “connections between life and death.” The “skeletons, skulls, and corpses” associated with Halloween were “reminiscent of those grim medieval dancers.”

Over 200,000 deaths, in the United States alone, have resulted from today’s version of the plague. Although arguably more benign than the Black Death, COVID-19 has ravaged the nation. According to TIME‘s Jeffrey Kluger, over 400,000 deaths will have been amassed by year’s end.

With its roots in medieval history, this year’s Halloween in T-Town may only be a sideshow to the community’s struggle with the ongoing horror of a pandemic that affects both young and old.

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