Students are returning to class, and that poses a challenge not only for K-12 schools, but for higher education as well.
It’s also a challenge for college towns like Tuscaloosa and Auburn, which will see an influx of seasonal residents even if some are staying home and taking advantage of distance learning.
Like colleges across the state, Athens State University is requiring all students taking classes on campus to test negative for COVID-19 in the two weeks before the semester begins.
“The mandatory testing program will be accompanied by frequent reminders about the precautions like mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing that are required to avoid the spread of COVID-19,” The Associated Press reported. “Voluntary testing during the academic year is meant to help track the disease.”
But that testing “will have been for nothing” if students ignore rules about wearing masks and social distancing, said Finis St. John, head of the board that oversees the University of Alabama System, which is part of the testing program with Athens State.
Athens State is in a better position than most colleges and universities. Even under normal circumstances, most of its students enroll in online classes. Major universities like Auburn University and the University of Alabama are used to large student bodies drawn from all over the Southeast, the nation and the world.
In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, that will put additional strain on their host communities.
Tuscaloosa is responding by cracking down on the city’s nightlife. That may be easier said than done. Apart from the University of Alabama’s robust fraternity and sorority life, “Tuscaloosa has a thriving bar scene, and the ... campus is adjacent to downtown and the Strip,” the website BestColleges notes.
It’s precisely that “thriving bar scene” that Tuscaloosa city leaders decided this week to crack down on.
The City Council there approved a measure Tuesday night that allows Mayor Walt Maddox to enact rules aimed at combating a surge in coronavirus cases.
“Among the regulations is a move to reduce the capacity at bars to 50% after 9 p.m.,” according to The Associated Press. “Another rule would reduce the occupancy of entertainment venues to 25%, down from 50%.”
These rules are in addition to a statewide mask order and the Alabama Beverage Control Board’s decision last month to force all bars and restaurants to cut off alcohol service at 11 p.m.
But it is debatable how much of an impact these measures will have. These are college students we’re talking about, and if they can’t drink in bars, they may simply take their partying elsewhere, under even less supervision. Private parties could be at even greater risk of spreading COVID-19 than bars, which is especially worrying when one considers the number of COVID-19 hot spots linked to bars, beginning early on with New Orleans in the first couple of weeks after Mardis Gras.
Like St. John said, all of these legal measures will be for nothing unless individuals act responsibly on their own. This will be a good opportunity for “college kids” to show they are no longer kids, but adults.