In a joint press conference Thursday afternoon, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and US Sen. Doug Jones discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts the city had made to combat its spread among students at the University of Alabama.

Since the start of the pandemic in March, the state of Alabama has seen roughly 14,000 hospitalizations and over 2,000 deaths. Maddox and Jones said the state is also is home to two of the top five colleges with the highest new cases per capita -- UA and Auburn University.

Jones praised the leadership of Governor Kay Ivey, who on Thursday extended a State Health Order mandating the use of face coverings until October 2nd.

"Clearly, Governor Ivey's mask order is having a positive effect... But we're still not out of the woods yet," Jones said. "What increases we have seen have been attributed to colleges, but [students] let their guard down as well."

Mayor Maddox said he was troubled by the recent spike in cases at The University of Alabama, where 531 students, faculty and staff have tested positive for the virus since classes resumed last week, and said his main priority is keeping students on campus while making sure it is as safe as possible.

Maddox said keeping The University of Alabama open and having students on campus will ensure the city's largest employer stays in business in any recognizable way.

The University has a $2 billion impact on the Tuscaloosa metro area every year, Maddox said, and creates around 8,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Maddox said UA is doing its best to handle the emerging cases, and that their plan for students to remain on campus and in face-to-face classes is a good one, but that all parties involved need to take personal responsibility to ensure it is followed.

"I'd rather have my daughter at The University of Alabama than anywhere else," Maddox said.

The fight isn't going to be over anytime soon, either. As the city, state and nation continue to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine to be developed, the virus will continue to be a major barrier to the way of life we knew before March.

"We’ve still got a long way to go in this fight," Maddox said. "Summer was supposed to be the respite, and the summer has been tremendously difficult. Fall is certainly going to be wrought with challenges."

Maddox said next six to twelve months will be the most dangerous, as schools reopen, sports resume and an impatient population grows tired of following mandates meant to slow the spread of the virus.

"There’s a premature move to return to normal," Maddox said. "Even under the best circumstances with the most resources available, it is still difficult, so what are you gonna do in rural school systems across the state that are attempting that without those resources?"

Jones, though, said he believes that Alabama can prove itself in the coming months and keep its new cases low.

"I have optimism in the strength of American people and Alabamians to come out of this better and stronger," he said."It's really going to depend on us."

Maddox and Jones also talked about other challenges facing the state and country, including growing civil unrest in response to police brutality.

Maddox has already taken steps locally by working with Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley to eliminate chokeholds like the one that led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year and working to implement a policy that will allow officers to intervene and report suspected abuse by their peers and superiors.

"We have to continue to rise up, continue to speak out to end this type of police activity," Jones said. "[Most police officers] do not commit those kinds of acts of terror!"

Watch the full discussion on Jones' Facebook page below.


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