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Tuscaloosa Mayor Reopens School Bars as COVID-19 Skyrockets at College of Alabama

Tuscaloosa Mayor’s Office

The mayor of Tuscaloosa is letting bars near the University of Alabama reopen on Tuesday, even though the school just reported more than 800 new cases.

In a press release, Mayor Walt Maddox citied a “positive trend” in results, saying an overall decline in community positivity rates “provides an opportunity for a limited reopening of bars which have sacrificed a great deal to protect our healthcare system and economy.” At the same time, the university reported 846 new cases over the last week—the largest increase in a single week since classes began.

Maddox shut down all bars in the area for two weeks in late August, after more than 500 University of Alabama students tested positive in the first five days back on campus. The latest tally shows an increase in average daily cases from that first report, though a slight decline from a truncated, three-day report the week before. 

The university boasted about the trend in a press release, with Dean of the College of Community Health Sciences Richard Friend claiming it “shows that the UA System Health & Safety Plan is working.”

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The release pointed out that only 65 students had tested positive the day before. But even Friend noted that they had yet to see the full benefits of bars being shuttered in the area, saying that they were only “starting to see the results of those decisions.”

Even some students were outraged with the decision. One who identifies himself as a freshman at the university tweeted that the mayor was making a “huge mistake” and that the decision made him feel less safe on campus.

“Cases aren’t going down. They are skyrocketing,” he wrote. “Why are our politicians constantly failing to do the right thing? I just don’t get it.”

Maddox initially ordered bars shut down and bar service suspended at restaurants for two weeks on Aug. 24, after photos of coeds flocking to local bars, maskless and packed together, surfaced on social media. The university also suspended all social gatherings on or off campus, and instituted a 14-day moratorium on student events outside of classes.

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“The ever-increasing number cases of coronavirus on campus will create two major disruptions for the city of Tuscaloosa if left unabated,” Maddox said at the time, citing disruptions to the economy and the health care system. “I know this is not easy. I know the coronavirus has taken so much but we must finish the job.”

His updated order issued Friday allows lounge establishments to operate at 50 percent capacity if they do not exceed 100 people and also allows other establishments to serve alcohol only to seated customers.

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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