TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – As coronavirus cases around the U.S. continue to rise, authorities in one Alabama county may have identified a possible source for their increase.
Infected college students.
Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue Chief Randy Smith said Tuesday that city officials were able to confirm incidents of students knowingly diagnosed with COVID-19 still choosing to attend parties and gatherings within the city and county.
“We thought that was kind of a rumor at first,” said Smith, who is heading the city of Tuscaloosa’s Incident Command team in response to the coronavirus. “We did some additional research. Not only did the doctors’ offices help confirm it, but the state confirmed they also had the same information.”
Smith did not specify how many students knowingly went to these parties or which university or school they attended.
Tuscaloosa City Councilor Sonya McKinstry told ABC News that students have been organizing these events as "COVID parties" at which they intentionally infect each other.
"They put money in a pot and they try to get COVID. Whoever gets COVID first gets the pot. It makes no sense," McKinstry told the network. "They're intentionally doing it."
McKinstry told ABC News that officials want to prevent these sorts of parties, but the task is challenging as the students are blatantly disregarding guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"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?" McKinstry said.
In Alabama, a total of 38,442 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed – 10,696 within the past two weeks – and 947 patients with the illness have died.
Across the United States, more than 2.6 million people are known to have been infected and more than 128,000 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Wednesday, the number of new cases in a day topped 50,000 nationally for the first time.
While young adults generally are at a lower risk for complications from severe disease from the new virus, public health officials have warned they could be more likely to be spreading the virus unknowingly with no or mild symptoms. Severe complications are also still possible for young people.
Young people have also faced sharp scrutiny as videos and photos on social media show groups ignoring social distancing guidelines at pool parties, the beach or bars.
A USA TODAY analysis published last week found that people under 45 made up 42% of cases before Memorial Day weekend but 55% of cases reported since then.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, pleaded with people under 40 to take social distancing guidelines more seriously at the the first public meeting of the White House Task Force on COVID-19 in months.
"If you get infected, you will infect someone else, who clearly will infect someone else," he said. "Then, ultimately, you will infect someone who is vulnerable – that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, uncle who's on chemotherapy, aunt who's on radiation, or a child who has leukemia."
Contributing: Karen Weintraub, Jayme Fraser, Matt Wynn and Dan Keemahill