The bar-lined Strip in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is usually filled with Crimson-clad football fans during championship games, who storm the street if the Crimson Tide win. The mayor of Tuscaloosa, the home city of the University of Alabama, was hoping that fans would stay home on Monday night as the city struggles with virus cases and limited capacity in hospitals.
“We’re probably in our most precarious position since the pandemic began in early March,” Mayor Walt Maddox said in a Zoom interview last week.
“When your hospital has four available I.C.U. rooms left, that’s as serious as it gets,” he added.
Health officials encouraged avid football followers to adopt Coach Nick Saban’s philosophy: “Do your job.”
“Our job is to social distance, wear a mask, follow the occupancy orders,” the mayor said of those who would choose to watch the game in the company of people outside their immediate household. “And, if we are successful Monday night, that we don’t flood the streets and create a block party environment.”
But it appears that fans did not get the message, as bars along the Strip had crowded lines at 3 p.m. Eastern on Monday.
The number of new coronavirus cases in Alabama this week increased 29 percent compared to two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. About 20 percent of people who were tested in the past several weeks were found to have the virus, said Dr. Karen Landers, a health officer for the state. “That’s very very high statewide; we have a lot of community transmission of Covid-19,” she said in a phone interview last week.
Tuscaloosa, in accordance with Alabama’s guidelines, has mandated masks and set limits on bar and restaurant occupancies to curb the spread of the virus; there is a “safer at home” order but no curfew in the state.
While there is a police presence monitoring the Strip, only 69 percent of Tuscaloosa’s police officers were available as of Thursday because of exposure to or contraction of the virus, Maddox said.
The university also released guidance for how to watch the game safely on Monday, writing in a post on Twitter that “any unlawful behavior and/or violations of our health and safety protocols will result in disciplinary action.”
In Columbus, Ohio, home of the Buckeyes, about 0.6 percent of the population has tested positive for the virus each week for the past eight weeks, Dr. Mysheika Roberts, the city’s health commissioner, said in a phone interview last week. The city has been checking for occupancy and mask compliance in restaurants and bars, and planned to patrol more on Monday night.
“We have seen some issues with restaurants and bars on game day or game night, and we have issued warnings when necessary and we have even gone to court for a few cases,” she said of overcrowding and people refusing to wear masks over the past several weeks.
There is a stay-at-home order and a 10 p.m. curfew in Ohio. Dr. Roberts said Columbus’ health department was bracing for a surge in cases following December’s holiday season; the average number of new cases in Ohio rose 16 percent last week from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database.
“Then if you put the game on top of that this coming Monday, we’re concerned about a surge that we might have after that,” Dr. Roberts said.
The mayor of Columbus is watching from home with just his immediate family. “And I encourage Buckeye Nation to do the same,” Mayor Andrew Ginther wrote in an email to the Times. “I know that is a lot to ask, but illness and possibly death have to count more than a national championship.”