Alabama Is Packing Graduation Ceremonies and Overloading ICUs

Alex Kelley would have liked to go to prom. Or senior field day. Or at least a graduation ceremony.

But the senior at the Montgomery Academy, a private K-12 school in Alabama’s capital city, began remote learning on Zoom in mid-March along with millions of other students throughout the country. Over the next several weeks of isolation, he and his classmates were stripped of the pomp and circumstance that usually accompany their rite of passage.

What’s frustrating, Kelley told The Daily Beast, is watching other seniors in his own state get to walk the stage.

Several high schools in Alabama—where coronavirus cases have been steadily increasing since lockdown restrictions were first loosened last month—went ahead with ceremonies this week, provoking the ire of protesters and dismay among some public health officials. Even as local Montgomery officials warned this week that major hospitals had completely run out of available intensive care unit beds due to an outbreak in the area, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Thursday that statewide bans on large entertainment venues, athletic activities, and childcare facilities would end on Friday at 5 p.m.

In other words, one of the states with the most alarming COVID-19 dynamics in the country was plowing ahead with a uniquely brazen reopening. 

In a testament to the absurdity of the situation in the state, graduates and family members flocked to an 11,000-seat stadium on Wednesday and Thursday nights in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, where masks and social distancing guidelines were set out. In other cities, more than 500 graduates and attendees hugged one another and socialized sans protection, according to the Associated Press.

In an interview, Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama and chief of Women’s Health Services at 1917 Clinic in Birmingham, emphasized the warning Americans have been hearing for months: “The virus is very easily transmitted, and we know that it spreads even more easily when a lot of people are packed close together indoors.” 

That makes a large graduation ceremony risky at best.

“We really have to think about it all together—not just the students and teachers but their parents and grandparents,” said Dionne-Odom. “If some people aren’t safe, nobody is safe.”

“That’s hard to hear as an 18-year-old student,” she acknowledged. 

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