Members of the Kappa Delta sorority at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa were preparing for a big party on Tuesday that, any other year, would be a routine event.
The main difference – besides security measures like face masks – at a glance to the pandemic? Instead of 600 people at a time, the organizers promised to take the bus in three “teams” or groups of 200 revelers at a time.
But amid the surge in coronaviruses across the country, townspeople have demanded answers to a very simple question: why did the school and town leaders approve a big party fueled by the alcohol right before sending the students home for the holidays?
“It’s appalling and dangerous,” Louise Manos, 61-year-old radiation therapist told The Daily Beast, saying “the four city council members who voted for this are sanctioning a mass-market event.
“It will be worse because of the students going to… drink and dance,” added the longtime Tuscaloosa resident. “These revelers will be heading home for Thanksgiving next week and eventually taking COVID home to elderly relatives.”
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 with the virus have increased in recent weeks.
But city council voted last Tuesday to approve a special event retail license for the Kappa Delta Farm Party, which will be held on November 17 at a venue called Black Warrior Farms. The move – at a time when third wave coronavirus cases are skyrocketing and vacation travel was expected to feed new clusters – has confused everyone from locals to frontline medical workers to employees of university.
Casey Johnson, of Special Events Management, who planned the farm party in coordination with another company and the sorority, told the meeting that organizers expected 600 people in three shifts on the 14-acre farm. She added that each group of 200 people would have their body temperature checked before boarding charter buses, which would transport all participants the six miles to the venue. Participants were required to wear masks during the event, which was to take place outside.
City council’s 4-2 vote in favor of the farm party was first reported by a local blog.
“I want to make sure the council understands that this isn’t a group of 600, 800, or 1,000 people at the event at a time,” Johnson told city leaders at the meeting. meeting. “It will be done in teams. So we’ll basically have a six hour party. They will sign up for three different shifts. They’ll load on a bus. They are not allowed to come to the site in any other way. “
At the meeting, Tuscaloosa City Council President Cynthia Almond said the decision was “difficult” for her.
“Oh, I wouldn’t let my kid go to this.
– David Thrasher, pulmonologist, Montgomery, Alabama
“We recently closed businesses and banned this type of activity,” she said. “Today we received a report that our numbers are increasing locally.”
In the end, Almond voted no, explaining, “I’m really concerned about the ability of these children, these young adults, to socialize.”
Ultimately the vote passed, with only Almond and Councilor Lee Busby against the measure.
In an interview with the Daily Beast on Tuesday, Busby said he was not “on the warpath” on this, but that a big alcohol-soaked party amid a pandemic “didn’t m didn’t seem like a good idea ”.
“It’s that simple,” Busby said. “The party organizers did a good job in presenting all the precautions, so I understand the impact this had on the collective vote, but I just didn’t think it was a good idea that was due to happen now.
When even weddings that start well remotely and respect masks fell into a drunken mess after the introduction of alcohol, it’s easy to imagine what a giant sorority party could look like, even outdoors, even with precautions.
“Alcohol will be served, but we expect them to wear their masks,” said Katie Sandlin, a 33-year-old biologist who works at the university-affiliated Genomics Education Partnership. “Are you serious? Do you know any students? Do you see how they behave at soccer games? Come on, get real.
Respirologist and intensive care physician David Thrasher, based in Montgomery, Alabama, had a similar view of the danger: “It only takes one mistake to get seriously ill or die.
“I’m treating a person right now who was going to have a four-person event outside, and it rained, and they held it inside, and now they’re seriously ill,” Thrasher told The Daily. Beast.
The pulmonologist has been in the COVID trenches since this summer and said on Tuesday he was still, frankly, exhausted.
“Cases are increasing, hospitalizations are increasing and cases of death will increase,” said Thrasher of Alabama. “We’re not as bad as in June, but we’re heading in that direction.”
“Now they are doing the right thing by leaving them outside, assuming there is no bad weather,” he added. “If everyone is wearing a really, really good mask and face shield and staying six feet apart, that’s pretty good.
But when asked what his advice would give a student, whether it was his son or daughter, Thrasher said, “Oh, I wouldn’t let my kid go to this.
“That’s where the super-spreader problem comes in – some kids are going to wear this mask around their chin,” he told The Daily Beast. “With alcohol involved, they’ll let their guard down.”
And precautions like temperature checks, Thrasher said, aren’t so helpful when a large portion of cases are asymptomatic.
At the city council meeting, prosecutor Glenda Webb said her office had coordinated with the university and there were no “outstanding issues”.
Councilor Lee Busby asked Johnson if the rally was “within University student guidelines,” to which she replied, “Yes, sir.
But the University of Alabama’s Comprehensive Health and Safety Plan states that “on-campus and off-campus student events must be approved by the Vice President of Student Life and are subject to the parameters listed below. Which includes a participation limit of 100 students for outdoor events.
“This holiday, especially the timing, is a recipe for disaster.“
– Sabrina Snowberger, University of Alabama staff member
In a statement on Tuesday, the university told the Daily Beast that it “had demanded that the chapter follow detailed rules and safety instructions,” including “a 30-minute break between the arrival / departure of each group is required for the cleaning / disinfection of tables, chairs and overall site ”, and a 50 percent passenger capacity on each bus.
The Daily Beast’s requests for comment to all other members of City Council, Black Warrior Farms, the Kappa Delta local and the two companies that had planned the event were not returned on Tuesday.
For Sabrina Snowberger, 22, a full-time staff member at the University of Alabama who has “a lot of direct and in-person interactions with students,” that doesn’t feel like an irresponsible choice – it’s one that could put his parents in personal danger.
“I haven’t been able to see my parents since December 2019,” Snowberger told The Daily Beast. “I don’t want to risk their health from a hotspot like Tuscaloosa when I have such close contact with students.”
“This holiday, especially the timing, is a recipe for disaster,” she added. “And I am concerned that people are infecting or even losing family members or loved ones as a direct result of the spread of the virus during this event.”
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