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University of Alabama records 566 cases of COVID-19 in the first week after in-person classes

The University of Alabama has recorded 566 cases of COVID-19 in the first week after in-person classes started, figures released Monday show.

A total of 531 positive cases were reported on the Tuscaloosa campus since August 19; six at their Birmingham campus; eight in Huntsville and 21 for UAB clinical enterprise employees. 

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said the city would be closing bars for the next two weeks after what university officials described an ‘unacceptable’ rise in cases among students, faculty, and staff.  

The numbers threaten to derail plans to continue the semester on campus. ‘The truth is that fall in Tuscaloosa is in serious jeopardy,’ Maddox said.   

While the daily average of new COVID-19 cases has been trending downward statewide, school officials have expressed concern about images of large crowds waiting outside off-campus bars.

The university on Friday announced a 14-day moratorium on all in-person student events outside of classroom instruction after more than 20,000 students returned to campus for the first time since spring break. 

Social gatherings are prohibited both on and off campus and the common areas of dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses are closed, according to the new guidelines. Visitors are not being allowed in dormitories and sorority and fraternity houses.

The isolation space at the university is currently nearly 20 per cent full, data shows. 

UA president Stuart Bell said: ‘Our challenge is the virus and there’s a difference, folks…It’s not student behavior, OK. It’s how do we have protocols so that we make it to where our students can be successful, and we can minimize the impact of the virus.’ 

Mayor Maddox announced the closures along with the end of bar service at restaurants during a news conference with campus officials. 

Maddox said university officials requested the action. Maddox said an unchecked spread of the virus threatens both the health care system and the local economy if students are sent home for the semester to do remote learning.  

School officials said there has been a rapid rise in cases, particularly among fraternities and sororities. The university on Friday had announced a moratorium on student gatherings both on and off campus.

‘Although are initial re-entry 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,’ Bell said at a news conference.

The university had earlier announced that initial results from a testing program found few students returning to campus were positive for COVID-19. Dr. Ricky Friend, dean of college of community health sciences, said subsequent testing last week has found more cases.

‘During that time, we encountered many students who have been exposed since returning to campus, particularly in the Greek system,’ Friend said. 

He added: ‘We are concerned that each day that goes by there might be more cases.’

Bell wrote that violations of health and safety protocols, both on and off campus, are subject to harsh disciplinary action, up to and including suspension from the university.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey praised the mayor and university officials for acting swiftly.

‘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. 

Alabama has recorded more than 117,000 cases of the virus; the death toll stands at 2,024.

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