AUBURN, Ala. (WSFA) - As the nation grinds to a halt and millions look to stem the spread of COVID-19 by staying home, there’s some concern over whether those in college towns are heeding the warnings.
Officials with the City of Auburn, home to Auburn University, are well aware of the possible health crisis, but they admit their hands are mostly tied.
“We are aware that there are several businesses in Auburn that are promoting St. Patrick’s Day celebrations,” said City Manager James Buston. “But, he adds, “the city council of the City of Auburn does not have the authority to force them to close.”
Auburn Mayor Ron Anders is imploring Auburn’s citizens to avoid being in groups that exceed 10 people.
“Our welfare sometimes depends on your welfare, and we need you to help us keep Auburn a healthy community,” Anders said in a video message.
Americans are being urged from all angles to “self-quarantine,” to keep a buffer between them of at least six feet and to avoid crowds of an ever-shrinking number that’s down to 10, depending on the agency making the request.
The university has all but closed and shifted online as a sign of how serious the issue of tackling the illness has become. But area bars are still offering holiday-themed events to attract customers who may already have few entertainment options because of mass closures.
College parties wouldn’t have raised much concern just weeks ago, but with large gatherings making it possible to spread the virus, that concern is changing.
The issue comes from the fact that COVID-19 doesn’t appear to have much effect on many younger residents, like college students. Even if infected with COVID-19, they may not feel very sick. Some never show any symptoms. But they’re still able to spread the illness to those who are older or who have underlying health issues, and the consequences can be just as deadly.
The authority to close or limit any of the businesses rests in the hands of the governor, in coordination with and state and county health officials, Buston explained.
“It is hoped that the owners of these businesses will practice the type of social distancing and capacity limitations that have been recommended,” Buston said. Whether they do remains to be seen.
There has been some movement on the state level, though it doesn’t directly affect college towns like Auburn or Troy at this point. Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey ordered restaurants, bars, breweries and other foodservice establishments in Jefferson County (Birmingham) and surrounding counties to prohibit on-premises consumption of food or drinks for a week. The surrounding counties include Tuscaloosa County, home to Auburn’s arch-rival, the University of Alabama.
Despite the parties still drawing crowds, Buston and Auburn Mayor Ron Anders aren’t sitting on their hands. They’re using their positions to urge residents to follow guidelines from the Alabama Department of Public Health, the governor’s office, CDC, and President Donald Trump to avoid these gatherings until the pandemic is over.
And they could get some help in their efforts. Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has warned that if Alabamians don’t “hunker down,” he will consider stricter guidelines across the state to fight COVID-19′s spread.
State officials have also opened a new, toll-free number for people who develop symptoms and need to be tested. For more on how to get tested, you can call 1-888-264-2256. This is not a medical helpline.