Just Another Gameday?

Pre-pandemic football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium

The first home game weekend for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2021 would be conducted in a way that was almost the same as games that occurred before the Covid pandemic.

As Ken Roberts reported in the Tuscaloosa News:

The most notable new thing inside Bryant-Denny Stadium this season will be the return of something old: a full capacity of fans after crowd limits last season because of COVID-19.  The stadium capacity is 100,077. 

Masks will not be required for fans in the seats or concourse area, unlike last season. However, fans inside the stadium’s enclosed club areas or on elevators will be expected to wear masks. The mask rule is also in effect for fans who take a shuttle bus to the stadium.

Tailgating” on the Quad would return. No mask wearing would be required in the tents on the university’s quadrangle.

On September 2, 2021 he University of Alabama (U of A) had extended its indoor mask rule until October 1, 2021. The university’s sports site RollTide.com posted the new stadium face coverings policy:

Face coverings are now required inside all non-residential campus buildings in addition to on campus transportation. The rule applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. With that, masks will be required in elevators and internal club spaces of Bryant-Denny Stadium, regardless of distancing, unless actively eating or drinking. Masks will not be mandated in any of the outdoor/open-air seating space or concourse space.

Fans who paid for the premium Field Suites and even the Club, Zone and Skybox accommodations would seemingly be more constrained than fans sitting in the open. A Loge Box owner would pay a $150,000 “capitol gift” and have a five year commitment of $16,000 each year.

One fan who had been in the more restricted areas in 2020 said that university employees held signs to remind people that masks were required.

Of course many in the indoor areas had always been “actively eating or drinking.” Permitted consumption of alcoholic beverages, in fact, was limited to those areas in the stadium.

In addition to the mask requirements for indoor areas on campus at the U of A, in other areas in T-Town masking was required. The Tuscaloosa City Board of Education had mandated that students, staff and guests wear masks or face coverings. The wearing of masks in Tuscaloosa‘s Municipal Court and City Hall was required as well.

Employees at Tuscaloosa‘s City Hall on August 30, 2020, were notified that “team members” should “wear a mask if they are in close contact with each other and/or the public.” In office settings a mask would not be required if six feet of social distancing was possible.

The Tuscaloosa City Council attempted to abide with the mask wearing requirement, although not all Council members routinely wore masks during Council meetings. Whether six feet of distancing was always maintained seemed to be a subjective matter.

In T-Town‘s bars, restaurants and other public areas, there had been no such mask wearing requirement. CBS/42‘s Tim Reid wrote that restaurants and bar owners were eagerly awaiting large football gameday crowds. On the streets and in bars near the university, where fans would be packed like sardines, no mask wearing or social distancing would be required.

A staff report in the Tuscaloosa News covered arrests that had occurred on The Strip on the Labor Day weekend before the September 11, 2021 Crimson Tide football season opener. Doubtlessly anticipating the huge influx of fans, the Tuscaloosa Police Department (TPD) had more aggressively patrolled the areas near the campus. The article reported that the “TPD said their beefed-up presence will continue on the Strip, an area with bars and restaurants near the University of Alabama campus.”

Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Jenny Jarvie wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “COVID-19 still complicates game day, nowhere more than in the South. COVID-19 vaccination rates have lagged and hospitalizations have surged, filling intensive care units in Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Texas and other states that are home to powerhouse college football teams.” They reported that in “Alabama, where less than 39% of residents are fully vaccinated and many hospitals are overwhelmed” that tailgating had resumed. Unlike Oregon, Oregon State and Louisiana State universities, no proof of vaccination for football fans would be required.

USAToday‘s Jorge L. Ortiz, John Bacon and Christal Hayes reported on September 7, 2021, that “on the same day the U.S. reached 650,000 COVID-19 deaths — the world’s highest reported total — the country also registered more cases in 2021 than the previous year.”

AL.com‘s Leada Gore reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, had trepidations about packed football stadiums. He said, “I don’t think it’s smart. Outdoors is always better than indoors, but even when you have such a congregate setting of people close together, you should be vaccinated. And when you do have congregate settings, particularly indoors, you should be wearing a mask.”

To many residents of T-Town, the first Crimson Tide football weekend of 2021 was not just another gameday. Whether it would be a “superspreader” event or not was a question that lingered in their minds.

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Déjà Moo — or Much A Moo About Nothing?

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On November 10, 2020, Tuscaloosa‘s City Council approved the special events license for the University of Alabama‘s Kappa Delta sorority’s Farm Party. A last minute cancellation of the party due to concerns over health and safety was reported internationally.

The application for the Farm Party‘s party’s license had been made by Downtown Entertainment LLC.

An application for another such party came before the Council on August 24, 2021. The Kappa Alpha Theta sorority’s “Back to School Party” would take place at the same pastoral location as had been planned for the Farm Party. Once again Downtown Entertainment LLC had applied for the license.

As explained in the Franklin Stove Blog on November 11th, 2020, Downtown Entertainment LLC is part of “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.”

In 2020, state, city and University of Alabama Covid orders mandated mask wearing, social distancing and occupancy limits.

By the summer of 2021, things had changed completely.

On May 3, 2021, Alabama‘s Governor Kay Ivy had announced the end of the latest COVID-19 public health order. She said that “Alabama is open, and we are moving forward.”

Al.com‘s Kyle Whitmire wrote that in August, 2021, Ivy had bemoaned the low rate of vaccinations in Alabama. But at the same time, he wrote, “the governor dismissed other measures she could take to slow the spread of the disease — incentive programs for new vaccinations, renewed mask mandates or social distancing requirements in public places. With an election less than a year away, Ivey seems more worried about opposition in the Republican primary than she is about the health and safety of her constituents.”

In August, 2021, the University of Alabama, in response to alarming, rising Covid infection numbers, required that face coverings be worn “indoors on campus, where and when distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status.” Covid vaccinations for University students were not mandatory. There was no such state or local mask mandate.

The idea that any kind of requirement of mask wearing and for vaccinations would absolutely prevent the community spread of Covid may have seemed questionable after a significant outbreak of Covid cases involving vaccinated students at Duke University took place in August, as reported by WRAL‘s Maggie Brown. The cases had been traced back to bars, restaurants and private homes. Whether masks were worn by the vaccinated students was not clear. But the Center for Disease Control and Prevention was of the opinion that “vaccination may make illness less severe for those who are vaccinated and still get sick.”

According to FOXNewsRyan Gaydos, Louisiana State University (LSU) football fans will need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to attend a game in Baton Rouge. If vaccinated LSU students were to have had bayou parties, might they have be safer than unvaccinated University of Alabama students who were in a pasture near Tuscaloosa?

In August, 2021, the Patch‘s Ryan Grim reported that T-Town had seen the most Covid hospitalizations since January. Grim added, “But the speed and scope of transmission stands out as the most worrisome statistic, as Tuscaloosa went from nine total COVID-19 hospitalizations on July 14 to Monday’s 149. In the previous major surge, numbers show that it took DCH roughly eight months to match the same progression — from April 2020 to the following December.”

In August, 2021, the Associated Press ranked Alabama as fourth in the nation for new Covid cases.

The Thread‘s Meg Summersreported on a local petition to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and the City Council to “enact a city-wide mask mandate as hospitalizations and deaths from the Delta variant continue to climb.” Summers wrote:

Mayor Walt Maddox recently expressed his reticence to issue a mask mandate for the city, as enforcement of any mandate could prove difficult for local authorities.

“Can you imagine trying to enforce a mask ordinance and putting law enforcement in that extremely difficult position? There’s nothing but bad things that can happen,” Maddox said.

During the city of Tuscaloosa‘s Pre-Council meeting on August 24, 2021, there was very little discussion over the proposed Back to School Party.

That was in dramatic contrast to the lengthy discussion that had occurred concerning last year’s Farm Party.

Vincent Brown, Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer of the city’s Accounting and Finance Department, introduced the item about the Kappa Alpha Theta party that had been scheduled for the evening’s Council meeting. The gist of the discussion during the Pre-Council meeting over the granting of the license was essentially that having the party out on Joe Mallisham Parkway was preferable to the party being held in town.

Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley said that having the party in a pasture was better than it being held in Tuscaloosa’s Historic District. Council member Lee Busby, who represents the Historic District agreed, saying, “On balance, it’s probably a good thing.”

By the time of the Council meeting a few hours later, the applicant had asked that the the application for the special events license be withdrawn and the Council voted affirmatively on a motion doing so.

Resolution that was never voted on

The University of Alabama‘s Vice President for Student Life Myron Pope later made a statement that the off-campus event had not been sanctioned by the university.

The applicant’s request may have been related to this.

There are several more license requests involving Greek events, many of them on football weekends, that will be forthcoming, according to Chief Compliance and Enforcement Officer Vincent Brown.

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With God on our side?

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“God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.”

~ Otto von Bismarck

Bismarck may have borrowed from the Frenchman Abbé Correa for his epigram on providence.

Only time will tell if citizens of the United States and Alabama are under some sort of divine providence, that would uniquely protect people from the consequences of potentially unsafe and unhealthy behavior during the Covid pandemic.

Many of the people in the United States who refused to be vaccinated for Covid-19 or to wear masks were certainly not idiots or drunkards. Some were sober as a judge and highly intelligent to boot. Any suggestion that anti-vaxxers were “idiots” often resulted in an accusation of “shaming.”

The outspoken basketball legend Charles Barkley expressed his incredulity over such behavior, as reported by AL.com‘s Dennis Pillion:

“Most of the fun places are locked down because of COVID,” Barkley said. “And you’ve got these idiots out here who don’t want to take the vaccine and who don’t want to wear a mask, and they’re out here getting people sick and killing people all over the country, and some of these countries won’t let you go there.”

Jay Reeves in the Washington Post reported on the Gulf Coast‘s “Redneck Riviera,” which was considered a “virus hot spot.” Reeves wrote that, regardless of the area’s high Covid infection rate, both servers and tourists were dancing on the tables at a restaurant located on the Gulf, “where beaches, bars and stores are packed.”

Eric Fleischauer in The Decatur Daily wrote that a health official in Cullman, Alabama, was concerned about the outcome of the potential COVID “superspreader” Rock the South event where thousands gathered on August 13 and 14th, 2021. He wrote:

“We are absolutely shivering in our boots,” Judy Smith, administrator of the Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District, said Monday. “We have great concern.”

A huge Trump Rally in Cullman was scheduled for the Saturday after Rock The South. Tyler Hanes in The Cullman Times wrote about the measures that were planned as a consequence of the rally. The Cullman City Council passed an state of emergency declaration, because of the overcrowding at Cullman Regional that was a result of the pandemic. The declaration “allowed the city to provide the additional personnel and equipment for this weekend’s political rally after it was requested by Cullman Regional.”

AL.com‘s Ramsey Archibald wrote on August 18, 2021, that Alabama was approaching all-time high for COVID hospitalizations.

AL.com‘s Leada Gore reported on August 19, 2021 that Alabama had overtaken Florida for the highest rate of children who had been hospitalized for Covid-19.

A revised estimate of hospitalizations had been made by the University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s professor of public health Suzanne Judd , as reported AL.com‘s Sarah Whites-Koditschek on August 19, 2021. Judd‘s earlier estimation of 7,800 hospitalizations by the end of the month had changed. “Alabama’s delta surge could peak in mid-September with 5,000 hospitalizations.”

Whites-Koditschek wrote:

UAB’s Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo said on CNN that 5,000 hospitalizations is a “potentially apocalyptic” scenario for the state, since about a third of unvaccinated patients hospitalized with the delta variant are requiring ICU beds. Already there are not enough available.

ICU beds in many Alabama hospitals are already full and hospitalizations are nearing last winter’s peak of 3,084. As of Wednesday, there were 2,723 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama, overwhelming the state’s hospitals.

Al.com‘s Ben Flanagan interviewed sports writer Joseph Goodman for the podcast Outbreak Alabama. Goodman said:

“It is not your right to be able to walk into a stadium without a vaccine and endanger other people. That is not your right. That is not what civil liberties include. And I don’t care what silly state law Alabama politicians decide to pass so they can shill for votes in the upcoming election. The responsible thing to do is get a vaccine. And it is a privilege to go to a football game. It is not a right. In my opinion, if push comes to shove, the [SEC] schools should implement these vaccine passports.”

Goodman said that the requiring of such a vaccine passport would be unlikely. Perhaps having over a hundred thousand fans packed into Bryant Denny Stadium in T-Town for Crimson Tide home football games will be protected by divine providence?

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Ain’t got time for the Summertime Blues?

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

– William Shakespeare

As summer ends in T-Town, will an ominous Fall be portended?

One thing was certain. Reports of increased Covid woes abounded.

Melissa Brown in the Montgomery Advertiser wrote that Alabama’s hospitals were at their ICU capacity.

AL.com‘s Leada Gore reported that one Alabama doctor would no longer see unvaccinated patients. Mobile, Alabama’s Dr. Jason Valentine explained his decision: “If they asked why, I told them COVID is a miserable way to die and I can’t watch them die like that.”

Justin Weinberg of The Daily Nous reported that a University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) professor resigned in protest over his school’s Covid policies. Jeremy Fischer, a tenured associate professor of philosophy, said that the public health’s was at risk because of a state law that prohibited state-funded schools from requiring students to be COVID-vaccinated.

CBS/42‘s Tim Reid reported that Tuscaloosa physician Phillip Bobo believed that the University of Alabama should require that face masks be worn by fans during every home game to protect them from COVID-19. (No such plans had been made for the first Crimson Tide home game on September 11th.)

WRAL‘s Maggie Brown wrote that at Duke University there had been a significant outbreak of Covid cases involving vaccinated students. Duke had both a mask and vaccination mandate for its students. Brown reported that Duke‘s Vice President for Public Affairs Michael Schoenfeld had said “the cases were traced back to various indoor events in Durham. At least one was at a bar or restaurant, and others were in private homes.” Whether masks were being worn by the vaccinated students was not reported.

At the University of Alabama, where student vaccinations were not required, there was a mask mandate. While students were required to wear mask indoors, it was obvious that masks were not worn outdoors by the thousands of students celebrating the end of the sorority recruitment week on campus. Images of unmasked students were included with the Tuscaloosa New‘s account “Bid Day 2021: The University of Alabama is open for Bid-ness.”

T-Town‘s Mayor Walt Maddox discussed at two City Council Finance Committee meetings offering bonuses as a reward to city employees for their work during the coronavirus pandemic. In an article by Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News, the possibility of offering $250 incentive payments to the 43% of municipal employees who had not been vaccinated was reported. Council member Lee Busby at both meetings expressed reluctance to incentivize vaccinations, saying, “I do think this is one of those issues that we’re going to have to socialize out in our districts. We have people with varied positions on both sides of that.” Busby at the second meeting said that, depending on what channel he turned to, he had received conflicting information about Covid.

Will community health suffer in T-Town because of low vaccination rates for residents and university students, as was the concern of former UAH professor Jeremy Fisher?

Yeah, sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do
‘Cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues
No, there ain’t no cure for the summertime
blues

~ Eddie Cochran in Summertime Blues

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Catching up with Auburn in T-Town?

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On August 2, 2021, Al.com‘s Tandra Smith reported that masks would be required on the campus of Auburn University.

It was reported that the University of Alabama (UofA) might as well be requiring masks on campus. Zach Johnson, in UofA‘s student newspaper The Crimson White, wrote on August 4, 2021, that UofA Provost James Dalton had said that a campus-wide mask mandate for the fall semester would be likely. Johnson wrote, “Dalton said at least 70% of faculty and staff have reported COVID-19 vaccinations. The University has not released an official report, but about 10% of students had uploaded proof of vaccination by July 30, according to Senior Associate Vice President of Student Life Steven Hood.”

Students at the the UofA had begun returning to the campus in early August, many of whom would participate in the Greek community’s recruitment week.

An alarming story by WVUA/23 “Students heading back to school amid COVID surge” pointed out that T-Town had been experiencing increased hospitalizations due to the Covid virus.

As Meg Summers had reported in the Tuscaloosa Thread, “the Alabama Department of Public Health is […] urging residents to only visit hospital emergency rooms in times of true emergency in an effort to reduce the strain placed upon doctors and nurses.” She also wrote that the “DCH Regional Health System is expanding its inpatient wards to prepare for the surge of inpatients as the Delta variant spreads rapidly in West Alabama.”

Staff at the Patch reported on August, 4, 2021 that “Tuscaloosa County has a ‘high’ level of coronavirus transmission, […] according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The Patch article continued, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in public if they live in an area with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ transmission levels. Those who aren’t fully vaccinated are urged to wear masks in those settings, regardless of transmission level.”

The Patch‘s Ryan Phillips wrote that the Kentuck Art Center in Northport would be closed because an employee had tested positive the Coronavirus. And the city of Northport had “reimplemented social distancing guidelines for visitors to City Hall, in addition to temperature checks for those coming inside to attend Council meetings.”

Cecil Hurt reported in the Tuscaloosa News that UofA Athletic Director Greg Byrne had commented on plans for football games at Bryant Denny Stadium. “We have not had any serious discussions about reducing capacity, and we’d like to keep it that way. I know our team and our fans are looking forward to a full stadium again, so we are asking people to do their part.” As far as mask requirements were concerned Byrne said, “That would have to be discussed at the university administration or the UA system level.”

Will Sentell in the Advocate reported that Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards had said that as soon as the the U. S. Food and Drug Administration would give final approval to COVID-19 vaccines, there could be mandatory vaccinations of Louisiana State University students.

As reported by Reuters, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is aiming to give full approval for the Pfizer (PFE.N) COVID vaccine by early September.” Of course it would take two weeks after anyone who was fully vaccinated for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19.

The importance of vaccinating younger adults was reported by Roni Caryn Rabin in the New York Times. She wrote, “Physicians working in Covid hot spots across the nation say that the patients in their hospitals are not like the patients they saw last year. Almost always unvaccinated, the new arrivals tend to be younger, many in their 20s or 30s. And they seem sicker than younger patients were last year, deteriorating more rapidly.”

A workaround of Alabama‘s new law against vaccination mandates at Birmingham Southern University had been challenged by the state’s Attorney General Steve Marshall according a report by ABC/33-40‘s Stephen Quinn. Birmingham Southern’s plan had been to charge its students a $500 fee offset continual weekly antigen testing and quarantining. Students who had been vaccinated would have received a full rebate. Al.com‘s Kyle Whitmire wrote a column suggesting that Alabama’s vaccine passport ban be challenged in court.

T-Town‘s city government had not been as proactive as its sister city Northport and the UofA seemed to be behind its sister state institution Auburn in taking measures to address the high transmission of the coronavirus. On September 11, 2021, when the UofA‘s football stadium was expected to be packed with fans, would T-Town’s Covid-19 peril have only increased?

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The Killing Fields of Home Sweet Alabama

Graphic from Al.com

Whether at a field at a football stadium or even at a Farm Party, the potential for increased deaths due to exposure to the Covid-19 virus in Alabama had never been greater.

Dr. Suzanne Judd, a professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s (UAB) School of Public Heath warned that hospitals could become overwhelmed under existing conditions. Al.com‘s Sarah White-Koditschek wrote that Judd said that death rates due to Covid-19 could be much higher than in the previous year, when masking and social distancing had been mandated. Judd said, “There were no concerts. There were no large sporting events that were not unmasked.”

Tuscaloosa News sports reporter Cecil Hurt wrote that football coach Nick Saban and the University of Alabama‘s Athletic Director Greg Byrne were promoting vaccinations, “in a state that isn’t paying much attention.” The lack of a statewide mandate on mask wearing, social distancing and vaccinations could make attending a football game unhealthy. There could be a 100% capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Hurt observed, “A few things, like the long-running Fan Day, aren’t coming back, but the general attitude is that the tailgates and the crowds and the games and the atmosphere will be back in their old form.”

On July 29, 2021, Al.com‘s Ramsey Archibald wrote that “Alabama now has the highest COVID positivity rate in the United States. Al.com‘s Leada Gore reported that “only one Alabama county is considered to have a low enough COVID risk to fall below Centers for Disease Control and Prevention face covering thresholds.”

According to a July 29, 2021 article in The Washington Post by Yasmeen AbutalebCarolyn Y. Johnson and Joel Achenbach, the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines had actually stopped short of what an internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention slide presentation had called for. Even then, the new CDC recommendations had said that everyone — vaccinated or not — should wear masks indoors in public settings.

In Forbes magazine Michael T. Nietzel wrote that every top university in America was requiring that students be vaccinated. In Science magazine H. Holden Thorp explained why colleges needed vaccine mandates. Thorp warned that during “a powerful cold and flu season this year as masks are removed and viruses come out of hibernation,” the lack of vaccinations could be disastrous.

So, imagine a college campus where large numbers of students are coughing and sneezing, and even bedridden with normal colds and flu. In the absence of a vaccine mandate, it will be impossible for the college to reassure staff, faculty, and local residents that there is not a major outbreak of COVID-19. Further, many of these students who are unvaccinated could very well have severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in addition to whatever else ails them. This could lead to closures or substantial restrictions that could have easily been avoided if a vaccine mandate were in place.

Vaccinations at the University of Alabama are not required.

On July 29, 2021 an update from UAB said that the school would “require face coverings indoors on campus – regardless of vaccine status.” (The state of Alabama‘s mask mandate had expired on April, 9, 2021. AARP‘s Andy Markowitz‘s article showed that Alabama was not alone.)

Other universities throughout the nation, where there were no state laws banning masks, were taking similar steps.

Birmingham Watch‘s Virginia MacDonald and Robert Carter reported that “Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said he has recommended to local officials that they consider universal mask use.” Jason Morton in the Tuscaloosa News wrote that the Druid City Hospital Health System’s Chief Operating Officer Paul Betz had pleaded for increased vaccinations in the community. Morton reported, “This call for action in Tuscaloosa, where the fully vaccinated rate is 31%, is being made as the number of coronavirus inpatients at DCH Health System facilities continues to rise amid a nationwide nursing shortage.”

Will T-Town experience increased deaths and hospitalizations in the Fall? With low community vaccination rates and a lack of virus mitigating measures it would not seem unlikely.

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The Bama Covid Experience 2021 Redux

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In April, 2021, the Franklin Stove Blog reported, “There was a legitimate concern about public safety in T-Town, with thousands of unvaccinated University students no longer wearing masks.”

The same concerns remained about the impending 2021 Fall semester at the University of Alabama. Any hopes that vaccinations would have altered the situation had been ill-founded.

The idea that the state of Alabama would acquire immunity by May, 2021, as Dr. Suzanne Judd had speculated in February 2021, proved to be overly optimistic. Judd, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham‘s (UAB) School of Public Health, in a July, 2021, Yahoo Finance interview, said that “likelihood of reaching herd immunity at this point is fairly low.” She attributed this to low levels of statewide vaccinations and Covid-19 variants.

The Associated Press reported on July 20, 2021, that “Alabama is suffering a ‘self-inflicted wound’ from COVID-19, with hospitals again filling up as the state trails the nation in vaccinations and pandemic precautions like face masks and social distancing are all but forgotten, a health leader said Tuesday.” Dr. Donald Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, characterized the Covid pandemic as the “plague of our generation.”

Alabama Political Reporter‘s Micah Danney reported the concerns over the low vaccination rates that Selwyn Vickers, senior vice president and dean of the UAB School of Medicine and chair of the UA System Health and Safety Task Force, had. She wrote, “Vickers noted that Alabama is not allowing the mandating of vaccines. The state passed a law prohibiting vaccine passports in May, although it does not spell out any penalties if the law is violated.” 

Isabel Hope wrote in the University of Alabama‘s student newspaper The Crimson White that some of the severest critics of the University’s plan to reopen were students. In the University’s planned return to “pre-pandemic” conditions, “social distancing, classroom capacities, reentry testing, sentinel testing and masks — except in clinical settings — are no longer required.”

Hope reported that the mother of a Junior at the University called the plans “a recipe for disaster.” Students who had been Freshmen, when the University took steps to mitigate infections in 2020, were very concerned. Sophomore Sean Atchison worried about “the consequences that the lack of restrictions will have on the surrounding community.” He said that “the University owes it to Tuscaloosa to take precautions that protect their well-being.” Sophomore Keyara Baker said that under the University’s plan that “students are being allowed to do absolutely anything.”

Another Sophomore Sawyer Knight, who had been vaccinated, didn’t “understand the need for regulations.” Dianne Bragg, an associate professor in the department of journalism and creative media, said that students shouldn’t solely be blamed. “When you’re young, there’s just that kind of attitude of ‘It’s not going to happen to me. I’m going to be okay. If I got it, that’d be fine.’ I wish the students would take it more seriously, but when they look at adults and leadership not taking it seriously, what do we expect?”

While a large number of students at the University as a whole were not fully vaccinated, head football coach Nick Saban told the media that about 90% of his players were vaccinated. AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande explained that Saban informed his players about the consequences of not having vaccinations. Casagrande quoted Saban‘s admonition to his players. “Players have to understand that you are putting your teammates in a circumstance and situation. We can control what you do in our building. We cannot control what you do on campus and when you go around town, who you’re around, who you’re associated with, and what you bring into our building.”

In an interview on the podcast Outbreak Alabama: Stories From A Pandemic, Dr. Michael Saag, director of the Division of Infectious Disease at UAB, expressed his frustration. AL.com‘s Ben Flanagan reported on Saag‘s comments:

I think I can speak for all the physicians I work with and say that we’re all doing the best we can. I can also say we’re all working with the best of intentions. That said, for me personally, I’ve never been as frustrated professionally as I am right now. I had hoped and prayed for a successful vaccine and was frankly surprised when the vaccine showed its efficacy to the degree that it is and its safety. And I thought, my goodness, there’s a Christmas miracle if we’ve ever seen one in our lifetime. It actually happened. And then to have it not available initially and people clamoring, but finally getting it delivered in sufficient quantities to vaccinate everyone in the United States. And to my surprise and horror, people are not lining up to get the vaccine that’s offered to them free and that works extraordinarily well. People are choosing to remain in harm’s way, but worse, when they get infected, they put people who are vaccinated at risk, at least those who are immunocompromised who could get very sick from this.

Saag also warned about the dangers of going to football games:

A lot of the decision-making for this fall, especially with regard to football stadiums and getting back to life as a semblance of normal, was based on the assumption that the vast majority of citizens would be vaccinated. That’s not happened, to a lot of people’s surprise including me. It’s not rocket science. If you put a lot of people in a space, even if it’s outdoors, packed in next to one another and the majority of those people are not vaccinated…if you’re sitting next to someone who’s infected and they’re yelling and screaming like people do at a football game, they’re spewing virus into the environment and almost certainly it’s going to be a Delta variant, which means all you have to do is breathe in that air for about a minute and you’re going to walk away from that football game infected if you’re not vaccinated. This is just common sense and logic.

If you’re not vaccinated, you’re basically putting yourself in harm’s way in a major way because many of the people at the game or whatever location are just like you, unvaccinated. And the odds are pretty high with the numbers rising right now that out of 25 people, at least one would be infected at that moment in time. So you divide 25 into the number of people at the game, and you’re going to have hundreds of people who are going to be infected at the game at any moment in time, spreading virus to the people who are not vaccinated. It’s going to be an interesting fallout that is unfortunate because people are not getting vaccinated. Totally preventable. Totally. And yet, we’re not heeding the warnings.

A Facebook post by Alabama’s Dr. Brytney Cobia was all over the internet, as reported by USAToday‘s John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz. Dr. Cobia posted about treating young people for Covid. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

When students at the University “are being allowed to do absolutely anything,” will a number of them end up like Dr. Cobia‘s patients? How will the “Bama Covid Experience” impact T-Town for that matter?

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

Photo by FRANK MERIu00d1O on Pexels.com

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

The Advocate‘s Andrea Gallo wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t think of it as a bridge…

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Delta Dawn

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

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

Alabama fits that description.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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