Given that a mob of pro-Trump insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol less than one week ago, it’s all too easy to forget that our nation—and, really, the entire world—is still facing the novel coronavirus pandemic. And while there have been meager guidelines offered up by the federal government and disparate approaches between states and even cities, a number of elected officials—and even private entities—are begging people to do one simple thing: wear a face mask. But as we saw on Monday night in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, some people can’t seem to resist not heeding that simple request.
As reported by AL.com, Alabama fans celebrated their national championship win over Ohio State in typical fashion on Monday night. What does that entail? Lots of cheer and celebration, as one might expect, including descending into the streets, hugging, kissing, and shouting. As the local outlet reports, there was a local police presence on the scene and a previously announced request from both the university and the city to not take to the streets to party. So what did people do? While some wore masks, many did not, and of course, social distancing was sparse. The big picture takeaway? Instances like this one reinforce the recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reports that counties where large universities held in-person classes saw a rise of more than 50% in COVID-19 cases. Let’s check out more about Alabama, and the bigger picture study, below.
If you're wondering just how big the crowd was on the Strip in downtown Tuscaloosa, local outlet WBRC reports that Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox estimated about 5,000 people were present. Of those 5,000, 14 people were arrested. The mayor told the outlet that the plan was to let people celebrate for a couple of minutes, but things spiraled out of control to the point where Tuscaloosa’s police chief used pepper spray to break up the crowd. And again: We’re living in a global pandemic and cases are surging across the South, specifically.
Here are some videos from Twitter for reference.
Now, onto that CDC study. The study, released on Friday, compared the rates of COVID-19 exposure in counties with big colleges and universities that held classes in-person versus those with virtual learning. Surprising absolutely no one, in counties where large higher education institutes held classes in-person, COVID-19 cases rose 56%. This rise in cases occurred within three weeks of holding in-person classes, most of which were in early September, according to the report.
As a contrast, the same report found that counties that did not have a big college saw a 5.9% drop, and counties with large schools that were virtual-only had a 17.9% decrease.
The takeaway: Researchers found that counties where colleges held in-person classes were more likely to be “hotspots” of the virus on at least one occasion than counties where colleges held remote classes. Looking at the footage from the post-football victory in Tuscaloosa, it’s not hard to see why. And, to be fair, it isn’t just one night of football to blame. There have been reports of virus outbreaks in Greek life housing, bars, and campuses across the nation.
At a minimum, we need stricter guidelines about social distancing and face masks as college students (who are, of course, also at risk of getting the virus and becoming potentially deathly ill) don't exist in a bubble. These students interact with faculty and staff, and, when they go out and about or go home for breaks, they come into contact with service and transit workers and their own families. Celebrations feel like a sweet relief from a dark year, but the potential cost is far from worth it in the face of a deadly pandemic. After all, Alabama doctors are already anticipating another COVID-19 surge in the state by mid-January.