COVID on Campus and Coming to a Community Near You

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Sept. 15, 2020.

COVID-19 has infected more than 88,000 students, faculty and staff at colleges and universities in all 50 states. Since late August alone, more than 61,000 cases have been reported. And the fall semester has only begun.

Trump Lied, People Died

Beginning on January 22, 2020, and continuing to this day, Trump has downplayed the COVID-19 threat for personal political gain. Along with everyone else, campuses and their communities across the country are suffering the consequences.

  • What Trump knew on Feb. 7: In a taped conversation with journalist Bob Woodward, Trump says, “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” (Emphasis supplied)
  • What Trump said on Mar. 9: Trump tweets that COVID-19 is no worse than the common flu. He repeats the false claim often.
  • What Trump knew on Mar. 19: In another taped conversation with Woodward, Trump says, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic…Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older… young people, too, plenty of young people.” (Emphasis supplied)
  • What Trump said on June 23: Trump complains that COVID-19 testing is “showing young people that don’t have a problem.”
  • And said again on July 30: Trump says that young people are “almost immune” to the virus.

Alabama, College Football, and COVID-19

The University of Alabama is a case study in the challenges now facing schools, their communities and the country because Trump lied.

July 7: At the White House, Trump assembles a group to push the reopening of classrooms for in-person instruction this fall. The attendees include the chancellor of the University of Alabama System, Finis St. John IV. As St. John speaks, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama are spiking to more than 1,000 — a new record. Nevertheless, he says, the university’s board of trustees has committed to reopening, adding, “We are planning to play the [football] season.” 

July 12: Alabama’s seven-day average for COVID-19 hospitalizations has risen to 1,160 and its seven-day average of new infections is 1,524. Meanwhile, CDC data for the entire country indicate that hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients aged 18 to 29 are increasing at a greater rate than for patients over 65.

July 24: The CDC’s website summarizes a study involving COVID-19-positive patients who developed symptoms, but were never sick enough to be hospitalized: “35% had not returned to their usual state of health when interviewed 2–3 weeks after testing. Among persons aged 18–34 years with no chronic medical conditions, one in five had not returned to their usual state of health.”

“COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness, even among young adults without underlying chronic medical conditions,” the CDC says. “Effective public health messaging targeting these groups is warranted.…Nonhospitalized COVID-19 illness can result in prolonged illness and persistent symptoms, even in young adults and persons with no or few chronic underlying medical conditions.”

July 27: A study published in JAMA Cardiology finds that out of 100 adult patients in Germany who had recovered from COVID-19, 60 percent had ongoing myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to cardiac arrest, especially with exertion.

Aug. 3: The mother of a freshman football player at Indiana University posts on Facebook about her son’s battle against COVID-19: “My son was negative when he got tested at the beginning of volunteer workouts. Within three weeks he and multiple others tested positive.…Here was a kid in perfect health, great physical condition and due to the virus ended up going to the ER because of breathing issues. After 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus…Now we are dealing with possible heart issues!”

Aug. 8: The Mid-American athletic conference becomes the first NCAA Division I football conference to cancel its fall football season. Among the concerns are unknown long-term health effects of COVID-19, including myocarditis, on student athletes.

Aug. 10: Myocarditis has been found in at least five Big Ten Conference athletes, in addition to several cases spread across other conferences.

Aug. 11: Leaders of the Big Ten and Pac-12 — two of the “Power Five” football conferences — review a study by the director of sports cardiology at Ohio State University. He evaluated 26 competitive athletes referred to the school’s sports medicine clinic after testing positive for COVID-19. Although none of the athletes required hospitalization and almost all of them experienced mild or no symptoms, 15 percent were stricken with myocarditis. Because of potential medical risks to student athletes, the Big 10 and the Pac-12 postpone their fall seasons.

Roll Tide

The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa enrolls 38,000 students. Its football program generates almost $100 million in annual revenue. The university’s estimated economic impact on the city of Tuscaloosa is $2 billion, of which approximately $200 million is attributed to football.

Aug. 16: On the weekend before classes begin, large crowds gather at bars on “the strip” in Tuscaloosa. State guidelines require facemasks, but few are wearing them. The school’s athletic director posts a photo, noting that irresponsible behavior is putting fall sports are at risk:

Aug. 19-24: During the first five days after classes resume, 562 students at the university test positive for COVID-19.

Aug. 24: Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox orders bars to shut down and restaurants to suspend bar service for two weeks. He says that the spike in campus infections could threaten both the city’s health-care system and the local economy. The university places a moratorium on in-person student events and restricts access to fraternity houses.

Aug 28 – Sept. 3: The university is suffering one of the nation’s largest campus outbreaks. It reports 846 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number since August 19 to 1,899.Isolation bed space is at 40 percent of capacity, including three dorms and part of a hotel.

Sept. 1: Trump makes a phone call to the commissioner of the Big Ten, urging reversal of the conference’s earlier decision to postpone fall athletics.

Communities at Risk and Students with Nowhere to Go

Sept. 2: The university issues a press release titled “Leading medical experts caution universities that are considering closing.” An infectious disease expert and associate dean of Global Health in the UAB School of Medicine says, “There is a strong feeling among public health and infectious disease experts that it is safer to keep students on a college campus where there is COVID-19 spread rather than closing campus and sending students home en masse.”

Dr. Ricky Friend, dean of the University of Alabama College of Community Health Science,says, “From an epidemiologic standpoint, the 18- to 25-year old group is not going to suffer much disease burden. But they will spread the virus…”

Also on Sept. 2: On NBC’s Today show, Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses the problem of COVID-19 outbreaks on campuses: “When you send them home, particularly when you’re dealing with a university where people come from multiple different locations, you could be seeding the different places with infection.”

Sept. 4: Mayor Maddox allows Tuscaloosa bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity (up to 100 people) and allows restaurants to serve alcohol to seated customers.

Sept. 9: Harvard researchers review 3,222 COVID-19 cases of young adults (age 18-34) hospitalized nationwide between April 1 and June 30. Among that group, 88 died — about 2.7 percent, 21 percent required intensive care, and 10 percent needed a ventilator for breathing.

Sept. 10: Trump publicly urges colleges and universities to “stay open” and hopes that the Big Ten will reverse its earlier decision and play football.

Sept. 11: The University of Alabama reports that from September 4 to 10 (including Labor Day weekend) there were 294 new COVID-19 cases at its Tuscaloosa campus, a decline from the prior week. But Tuscaloosa County overall is experiencing a dangerous number of new daily cases based on criteria set by a “multidisciplinary team of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts, and public policy leaders.”

Sept. 16: The Big Ten announces that its football season will resume on the weekend of October 23-24.

Aboard the “Flying Dutchman”

Some schools with outbreaks have moved entirely to on-line instruction and sent their students home, creating new danger to others. At the University of Alabama, students can return home “if they are able to safely isolate and if they don’t have vulnerable family members at home,” according to Dr. Friend. Others schools are confining students to their rooms.

Those with no place to go now have time to read about the Flying Dutchman. According to legend, crew members of the ghost ship committed such a dreadful crime that they were stricken with a plague. Unable to find a port that would take them in, their eternal punishment was to sail the seas forever.

The students’ crime was believing the President of the United States, who is still lying to them.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

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