COVID-19 parties in Tuscaloosa: What’s really going on?

Updated: Jul. 3, 2020 at 2:09 PM CDT
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - You may have seen the headlines, students at Alabama throwing parties where people who have coronavirus show up and the first person to get infected, gets money. We’re On Your Side working to determine how much of that is true and how much of it is rumor?

Let’s start on Tuesday afternoon. During a pre-council meeting, Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith said over the past few weeks, students with known positive COVID-19 cases were showing up at parties in the city and county. Smith didn’t say where the students went to school.

“Where students and kids would come in with known positives. We thought that was kind of a rumor at first. We did some additional research. Not only did the doctors offices help confirm if but the state confirmed they also had the same information,” Smith said.

The next day, Mayor Walt Maddox told us the city doesn’t know if the young people are in fact students but he wishes they made better decisions.

“Unfortunately, I don’t believe they’re taking this as serious as they need to,” Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said.

Later that day, Councilwoman Sonya McKinstry told the Associated Press and other media outlets that students hosted parties to intentionally infect each other. McKinstry went on to say that students put money in a pot and whoever got COVID first would get the cash. It’s not clear yet where she got that information.

WBRC FOX6 News reached out to McKinstry, Maddox, and Smith and so far, no one has returned our calls or messages.

Late Thursday afternoon, Tuscaloosa City Councilwoman Raevan Howard told us “no comment” when asked about the COVID-19 party allegations.

In a statement, the University of Alabama says in part, the university has been aware for weeks about rumors of COVID parties. After a thorough investigation, UA says it hasn't been able to identify any students who may have taken part in them.

You can read the full statement below:

“We have been aware for weeks of the rumors about COVID parties. We conducted a thorough investigation, and although we have been unable to identify any students who may have participated in these types of activities, we will continue to follow up on any information we receive and educate our students about essential precautions. Our students want a return to on-campus instruction and the extracurricular opportunities they enjoy, and we fully expect them to safeguard their personal health and safety and that of everyone at the university and in our city.

The University of Alabama is unwavering in its commitment to the safety and well-being of our community. We have in place strict rules about on-campus activities and will enforce them stringently. Prior to the return of our students, all will participate in a detailed education and health module. We will test every student before they return to campus, along with all faculty and staff, at no cost to them. When we reopen in August, we will have mask rules, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning, sentinel and symptomatic testing, and multiple other health and safety measures developed in conjunction with the world-renowned medical experts at UAB and others throughout the University of Alabama System. It is essential that students cooperate and comply with these guidelines to allow for the safe return and continued operations of our campus.

Details about the University’s plans can be found at We ask anyone with information about inappropriate behavior to contact the UA Office of Student Conduct immediately.”

We also received this statement from Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health:

“Persons reported to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) local staff last month that persons stated to other persons that they attended a party where COVID 19 positive persons were present. This information was reported ADPH Center for Emergency Preparedness (CEP) and to local authorities. ADPH cannot verify that a party or parties actually occurred, that persons were present at parties who had COVID 19, or that persons were violating home quarantine. At this time, no cases of COVID 19 have been epidemiologically linked to a party or parties. However, ADPH Safer at Home Order, amended June 30, 2020, continues to include language outlining the home quarantine in Alabama. (See language and link below). Violation of the health order is a misdemeanor and fines for each violation can be up to $500. Suspected violations of the home quarantine order should be reported to law enforcement and the local health department, Effective immediately, any person who has tested positive for COVID-19—other than institutionalized persons—shall be quarantined to their place of residence for a period of 14 days, or other period of time as directed by the State Health Officer, or his designee, after receiving positive test results. Any person quarantined pursuant to this provision shall not leave their place of residence for any reason other than to seek necessary medical treatment. Any person requiring assistance while under quarantine may contact Alabama Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, While under quarantine, the person shall take precautions as directed by his or her health care provider or the Alabama Department of Public Health to prevent the spread of the disease to others.

We will keep you updated once we learn more information.

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