Watch CBS News

Alabama college students' "ongoing party" raises questions about safety — and football season

Is it safe to return to school?
Is it safe to return to school? Here's what experts say about safety in the age of COVID-19 03:30

Scenes of crowded entertainment districts and bars on the first weekend many university students returned to campus are raising new questions about safety during the coronavirus pandemic and whether college football can be played this year. In Tuscaloosa, where bars are required to close at 11 p.m. this fall to help stem the spread of the virus, Uber driver Ray Allen told a columnist for The Tuscaloosa News the crowds just move to houses once the nightclubs close. Most students "could care less" about wearing masks, Allen said. 

"I see it every night," he said. "It's an ongoing party."

Virus Outbreak Alabama Students Return
Patrons stand on the Bear Trap's rooftop bar on The Strip, the University of Alabama's bar scene, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Vasha Hunt / AP

Throngs have gathered in an area near campus called The Strip, and University of Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne tweeted a photo that showed dozens of people, many not wearing face masks or staying away from others, waiting to get in a popular bar.

"Who wants college sports this fall?? Obviously not these people!! We've got to do better than this for each other and our campus community. Please wear your masks!" Byrne said in a tweet Sunday.

In response to Byrne's post, Mayor Walt Maddox tweeted: "Why? We are desperately trying to protect @tuscaloosacity – We are trying to have college football season."

Maddox wrote that police and firefighters now have to come in early and are "actively enforcing" pandemic regulations. "It's a damn shame that our officers who are stretched thin across the City and who are working to exhaustion can't have a few hours of down time," Maddox said on Twitter.

Maddox said wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is not much to ask for to protect yourself and others, CBS affiliate WIAT reported.

Tuscaloosa police officers issued 12 citations for mask violations and arrested four people, but the problem wasn't just at the University of Alabama: Photos on social media also showed large crowds and relatively few masks around Auburn University over the weekend.

Public health officials worry that crowds on college campuses, combined with the resumption of classes in elementary through high school grades, will increase the spread of the new coronavirus which causes COVID-19.

While some campuses are teaching classes primarily online and some collegiate athletic leagues have canceled fall sports, the Southeastern Conference - which includes Alabama and Auburn - is moving ahead with plans to play games beginning Sept. 26. The league planned to announce its revised game schedule on Monday.

Universities have enacted rules meant to enforce mask wearing and social distancing on campus, and Alabama has a statewide rule requiring masks in public places. But the rules are being ignored.

More than 104,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Alabama and at least 1,830 have died of the illness, which usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with other health problems.

Meanwhile, "CBS This Morning" lead national correspondent David Begnaud reports four clusters of COVID-19 have been reported at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since students began arriving two weeks ago, several videos have appeared online showing students at off-campus parties or gathering in crowds.  Now exposed or infected students are being moved into isolation.

One student with COVID-like symptoms who asked to remain anonymous told Begnaud that she has been doing her best to practice social distancing.

"I've worn a mask pretty much 24/7, I really have no idea where I could have gotten it," she said."It does feel like the choices of a small few have really impacted the overall student body.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.