Students in Alabama have apparently been throwing ‘COVID-19 parties’ as part of a bizarre and dangerous contest to see who catches the virus.
Despite repeated warnings that coronavirus can be fatal, and the fact that it’s killed more than 127,000 people in the US and at least 947 people in Alabama alone, some students from Tuscaloosa apparently see it as a game.
The virus spreads from person to person through droplets, which is why so many officials are urging members of the public to wear masks outside the house and to avoid large gatherings.
However, Tuscaloosa City Councillor Sonya McKinstry recently learned of students doing the exact opposite, informing city council members students were purposefully inviting people infected with COVID-19 to parties in the city and the surrounding area.
According to McKinstry, the students put money in a pot as a ‘prize’ before trying their best to get infected with the disease.
Speaking to ABC News, the councillor explained:
Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot. It makes no sense. They’re intentionally doing it.
Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith confirmed the news of the students’ reckless behaviour to the City Council in a briefing on Tuesday, June 30, explaining ‘students, or kids, would come in with known positive [results]’ for the virus.
Smith admitted he thought it was ‘kind of a rumour at first’, though as much as we all may wish that were true, he said the officials ‘did some research’ and confirmed the parties were happening through information from ‘doctors’ offices’, with the state also confirming they had the same information.
It’s unclear if COVID-positive students infected anyone at the parties they attended, though Smith’s mention of doctors’ offices suggests there may have been some attendees who sought treatment, testing or advice after the parties.
McKinstry fears some students will attend the parties without realising their intent, in turn unknowingly exposing themselves to infected guests.
We’re trying to break up any parties that we know of. It’s nonsense. But I think when you’re dealing with the mind frame of people who are intentionally doing stuff like that and they’re spreading it intentionally, how can you truly fight something that people are constantly trying to promote?
Smith did not say which schools the students are from, though Tuscaloosa, which is the seventh-largest city in Alabama, and is home to The University of Alabama and several other colleges.
If even a handful of students attended the parties and caught the virus before interacting with other students or faculty, thousands of people could be at risk.
The fire chief didn’t comment on what is being done to curb the behaviour, but hours after the briefing the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring people to wear face coverings when out in public.
Alabama currently has a ‘Safer at Home Order’ in place, which explicitly states that people who test positive for the virus ‘shall be quarantined to their place of residence for a period of 14 days.’
Arrol Sheehan, spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said violation of the heath order is a misdemeanour, with fines for each violation costing up to $500. She added that suspected violations of the quarantine order should be reported to law enforcement and the local health department.
As of Wednesday, July 1, Alabama had recorded 38,422 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 10,696 in the last 14 days. Due to the increase of infections, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has announced she is extending the ‘Safer at Home’ order until July 31.
UPDATE: Though Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKinstry, and Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith, told the City Council on July 1 this behaviour was happening ‘intentionally’ in the city, as ABC News reports, the Alabama Department of Health has not confirmed this information. In a statement to WIRED, they said it ‘has not been able to verify such parties have taken place’.
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