A local UA pandemic news story caught my eye. It deals with large numbers, numbers we aren't used to seeing when it comes to students. The title of the article written by Michael Cassagrande, "University of Alabama COVID-19 positives dropping, dean ‘cautiously optimistic,’" gives one a sense of, well, optimism. Dr. Ricky Friend, dean of the UA College of Community Health Science, has become the medical "face" of UA's and the UA System's response to the pandemic.
Dr. Friend is correct in saying that the numbers going down is a positive thing. But to say that things are going well or nothing is wrong with the plan is disingenuous at best. By throwing out sky-high numbers to start, they are attempting to desensitize us from the ugly truth. Sure, 858 infected students, faculty, and staff in one week sounds pretty good after the previous week's total was 1,052. This means that at least 1,889 UA students and 21 faculty and staff have been infected by this virus within the last two weeks. That is almost 8 times what it took the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill to go online. 5% of the UA student body have become infected since coming to Tuscaloosa. Those are not good numbers and we don't, at this point, know what the long-term effects will be for those who had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic. In the interview, Friend noticed that the number of students with new infections was down to an average of 125 a day from 164 new infections in students the week before.
The fact that the University of Alabama remained open after averaging 164 newly infected students every day in the first week of classes is negligent. The fact that UA is now saying we should stay the course because we are only averaging 125 newly infected students in the second week has a very high potential to cause unnecessary deaths of students, their parents, or elders because 2,000 infected students isn't enough. Faculty and staff are watching what the university is doing and taking notes, something the Chancellor and the President are ignoring in order to keep the school open. They have refused to have an truly open forum where students, parents, faculty and staff can have their questions answered truthfully and directly. The University and System leadership have refused to answer to the students and employees at the University of Alabama, people they seem to consider expendable, and have refused to answer to the taxpayers of the state of Alabama. They have refused to give the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) timely and accurate numbers of positive tests. They also strongly encourage students, faculty, and staff to take Covid-19 tests on-campus. Could this be because that gives them control of the numbers?
The last reported 7-day total of newly infected UA students is greater than the last 7-day totals for the entire states of Wisconsin, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, New York Iowa Arizona, Washington, Nebraska, Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Utah, South Carolina, Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Nevada, West Virginia, Oregon, Hawaii, Connecticut, New Mexico, Montana, Rhode Island, Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, Delaware, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maine, and the State of Alabama. That's right UA has more than the State of Alabama because the University of Alabama is NOT properly reporting these positives to the Alabama Department of Public Health as required to do. If UA was a state, the last seven days of available data would make UA the state with the 15th highest total. Take a second to absorb that. The University of Alabama's 7-day total puts UA with more new infections than 35 other American states. 35!
Brushing off the virus in college-age students because they tend to show mild to no symptoms is derelict and thoughtless. According to the Mayo Clinic, tests show that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who experienced only mild symptoms." Okay, we don't know the age of those test subjects. But we do know, according to the director of athletic medicine at Penn State, that one-third of ”Big Ten athletes who contracted COVID-19 have shown symptoms of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.” This is one-third of elite athletes. If the average holds, at least 630 Alabama students may have myocarditis. The key is that we don't know what the long-term effects are.
Why are we still face-to-face? Why haven't members of the UA Board of Trustees demanded that UA go all online for the semester and figure out how they are going to keep this from happening again in January? Why haven't the state leaders stepped up? The Governor, the Secretary of State, the Health Commissioner, and just about every member of the Alabama state legislature has been MIA. Why? Some will speculate that the Chancellor and President are focused on the money. Others will speculate that keeping the University open and in the black is worth 15, 20, 30, 50, or 100 lives spread out among faculty, staff, and family members. They speculate it might be called a "minimal" loss of life that leaves everyone "cautiously optimistic" that the death rate will slowly curve downwards. Let’s ask Chancellor St. John and President Bell to explain why 2,000 or 3,000 or 5,000 new student infections is acceptable in order to keep the money coming in. How many infected students will it take? How many dead Tuscaloosans will it take? Please tell us how many students with long-term heart damage are worth the money to be made? How many faculty and staff with COVID-related chronic lung and heart problems is acceptable to the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor, and the President? Please don't flippantly or nonchalantly ignore our questions, give us no answers, and care about UA’s public image more than the lives of those who call UA home and who are UA.