Students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have attended parties in and around the city as part of a disturbing contest to see who can get the virus first, a city council member told ABC News on Wednesday.
Tuscaloosa City Councilwoman Sonya McKinstry said the students have been hosting “COVID parties” as a game to intentionally catch the contagion that has killed more than 127,000 people in the United States. She said she recently found out about the behavior and informed the city council of the parties taking place in the city.
She said the party organizers are inviting guests who have COVID-19.
“They put money in a pot and try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID gets the pot first. It doesn’t make sense,” McKinstry said. “They are doing it on purpose.”
Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith told City Hall Tuesday that he confirmed the students’ sloppy behavior.
At a briefing for the City Council, Smith expressed concern that parties have been held throughout the city and around Tuscaloosa County in recent weeks, “where students or children would enter with a known positive.” , according to a video recording of the meeting obtained by the ABC affiliated station WBMA in Birmingham.
“We thought it was a rumor at first,” Smith told council members. “We did some research. Not only do the doctors’ offices confirm it, but the state confirmed that they also had the same information.”
In his presentation, Smith, wearing a face mask, did not say what is being done to curb behavior or what schools the students were from. Tuscaloosa is the seventh largest city in Alabama and home to the University of Alabama and several other universities.
Just hours after Smith’s briefing, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring people to cover their faces when they are in public.
On Wednesday, Holly Whigham, a spokesman for the fire department, told ABC News: “We will not be releasing a statement about what was said last night.”
It was unclear whether COVID-positive students infected someone at the parties they attended.
Richard Rush, a city spokesman, said in a statement to ABC News that the city “is currently working with local agencies and organizations to ensure that we do everything in our power to combat this pandemic.”
McKinstry said he fears some people will attend the parties without knowing their intention and that they will be exposed to infected guests.
“We are trying to break any party we know of,” McKinstry told ABC News, adding that infected students are obviously ignoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for self-quarantine for two weeks.
“It doesn’t make sense,” added McKinstry. “But I think when it comes to the mindsets of people who intentionally do things like that and are intentionally spreading them, how can they really fight something that people are constantly trying to promote?”
Arrol Sheehan, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the state’s “Safest Home Order” explicitly states that those who test positive “will be quarantined at their place of residence for a period of 14 days.” .
Sheehan emphasized that violating the health order is a misdemeanor and the fines for each violation can be up to $ 500.
“Alleged violations of the home quarantine order should be reported to law enforcement and the local health department,” it said in a statement to ABC News.
As of Wednesday, Alabama had recorded 38,422 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 10,696 in the past 14 days, according to data provided by the state Department of Public Health. At least 947 people have died in Alabama from the virus.
In Tuscaloosa County, 2,049 people had contracted the infection and 38 deaths had occurred in the county, according to the Department of Public Health.
The news of the COVID holidays came the same day that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that she will extend the “Safer at Home” orders until July 31 as coronavirus infections continue to rise.
Under extended orders, gyms, entertainment venues, childcare facilities, and hair salons must follow sanitation and social distancing standards. Retail stores can open with an occupancy rate of 50%.
“Personal responsibility means it is everyone’s responsibility,” Ivy said at a press conference. “If we continue to go in the wrong direction, and our hospitals cannot handle patient capacity, then we reserve the right to go back and reverse the course.”
Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris, who joined Ivy at the press conference, urged people to wear face shields, although they are not required across the state.
“We know that facial coatings are not perfect and don’t stop everything,” said Harris. “But they do limit transmission.”
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