Thousands of University of Alabama football fans cheered on the street near campus after they defeated Ohio State 52-24 for the national championship, ignoring pleas for safety at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in a celebration that a senior health official said it could make the disease worse.
Students and others emerged from crowded bars near campus Monday night, and according to images posted on social media they gathered on University Boulevard in an area called ‘The Strip’.
Many of the fans who were yelling and cheering as they pressed against each other on the street and were not wearing face masks. Dr. Scott Harris, head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said he expected more cases of COVID-19 to emerge as a result of the street party.
“It is disappointing to see that people are not paying attention to the guidance that we try to give them to keep them safe. I was excited like everyone else and I wanted to celebrate too, but right now is not the time to be in large groups of people together when you are not masked, ”he said.
Fourteen people were arrested on charges including public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resistance to arrest, authorities said at a press conference where Mayor Walt Maddox said the crowd was “larger than any celebration we have seen in recent memory.” .
In an open letter spread through social media, ‘Workers of the Alabama Campus,’ a labor group for university employees, said the meeting could become a “wide-spread event” and called for hazardous work pay for workers. in close contact with students; evidence of virus tests; and a two-week suspension from face-to-face classes.
The university requires a virus test for all returning students during the semester who plan to live on campus, and testing is scheduled until next week at the basketball stadium. Students and workers must also complete online training on how to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
A university statement issued Tuesday afternoon said its officials had worked to minimize the risk before, during and after the championship game, including “issuing warnings and advisories on the need for masks, social distancing and responsible behavior.”
“As a result of recent events, we are allowing teachers to be flexible for the next two weeks with the option to temporarily hold classes remotely,” the statement added.
“Students also have the option to attend activities in person remotely.”
He added that while classroom broadcasting “is almost non-existent, we understand the concerns caused by recent events” and said that all health and safety rules remain in effect.
More than 5,500 people have died in Alabama from the disease caused by the coronavirus and about 408,000 have tested positive.
About 20,000 people tested positive in Tuscaloosa County, making it one of the worst in the state for the virus overall, and about 175 COVID-19 patients are being treated by DCH Regional Medical Center in the city.
The postgame scene was exactly what officials feared when they urged people to look at home and celebrate in private.
“Encourage, celebrate and enjoy the success of our team, but do so responsibly and safely,” Police Chief Brent Blankley said in a statement. Police cars and officers are visible on the sidelines of the crowd in some images.
People lined up to enter the bars an hour before kick-off despite the warnings, The Tuscaloosa News reported.
“All the bars are open and we are ready to go through the state of Ohio,” said a tweet from Gallettes, a popular student bar, long before the game started.