Tuscaloosa closes bars as coronavirus wallops University of Alabama

Credit: Social media photo via Twitter

Credit: Social media photo via Twitter

A sudden spike in new coronavirus cases is threatening to derail on-campus classes at the University of Alabama.

The state’s flagship school reported 531 confirmed cases among students, faculty and staff since classes resumed in Tuscaloosa last week, according to an online COVID-19 dashboard that was unveiled Monday.

Another 35 cases were reported throughout the greater UA System, which includes six cases at UAB Birmingham, eight cases at UAB Huntsville and 21 cases at UAB Clinical Enterprise — for a total of 566 positive tests since Aug. 19, according to data.

“The cumulative figure includes positive tests on UA System campuses identified through sentinel testing, point of care testing in campus health centers, and self-reported tests from private providers,” according to the website.

University officials called the high number of positive cases “unacceptable” and then appealed to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, who announced the city would close bars for the next two weeks.

At a Monday news conference, Maddox expressed concerns about the potential impact of the virus on the local economy and health care systems and then suggested sending students home for the semester for remote learning.

“The truth is that fall in Tuscaloosa is in serious jeopardy,” Maddox said, according to The Associated Press.

University officials said the rapid rise in cases was particular among fraternities and sororities. Late last week, the school banned student gatherings on and off campus for the next 14 days.

Common areas of dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses are also closed, according to the new guidelines.

Visitors are not allowed in dormitories and sorority and fraternity houses.

Students who violate the moratoriums could face suspension.

“Although our initial reentry test was encouraging, the rise in COVID cases that we’ve seen in recent days is unacceptable and if unchecked threatens our ability to complete the semester on campus,” University of Alabama President Stuart Bell said at Monday’s news briefing.

The University of Alabama tested 29,938 students returning to campus and found 310 positive cases among them, according to the website’s data.

Testing a week later, however, revealed more alarming results.

“During that time, we encountered many students who have been exposed since returning to campus, particularly in the Greek system,” said Dr. Ricky Friend, dean of college of community health sciences, according to the AP.

For now, UAB students accounted for little more than 1% of the total positive cases found, according to the data.

At Auburn University, 207 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported between Aug. 15 and Aug. 21, including 202 students and five employees, according to the school’s Campus-Specific COVID-19 Data. Although lower than the University of Alabama’s totals, Auburn’s numbers were still a dramatic increase from the 41 positive cases reported the week before. The university has had 545 total positive cases since March.

For the most part, students disregarded state mask mandates while packing the bars in downtown Auburn over the weekend, AL.com reported.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey praised the mayor and university officials for acting swiftly, according to the AP.

“They have made tough decisions, and I appreciate Mayor Walt Maddox and the University of Alabama leadership for tackling a serious problem as quickly as possible,” Ivey said.

Meanwhile, other universities are cracking down on student gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

Ohio State University suspended more than 200 students last week for violations of the school’s coronavirus safety measures. Parties of 10 or more people on or off-campus have been banned for students.