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Opinion | Let’s hope this isn’t the new normal

This is Friday the 13th, and bad luck is certainly on tap for Alabama, the United States, and the rest of the world.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is wreaking havoc. This may be overreaction, but a March without any madness? A stock market that loses big chunks of itself almost daily? No spring training for Major League Baseball? Makes one want to cry, except there’s no crying in baseball. No NBA or NHL or pro soccer? No Broadway plays or St. Patrick’s Day parades? No tours of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.? Huge concert tours postponed? Conference basketball tournaments canceled?Famous museums in the United States and across the world shut down, including the Louvre in Paris?

Axios’ headline from Thursday afternoon: “1 big thing: America closes up shop.”

It’s not far from absolutely true. But I would have reworded the head more like this: “1 big thing: America is closing up shop.”

Because America isn’t finished shutting down. My prediction is that before this is over, every college and university in Alabama will go to alternative teaching (online, most likely) or drop classes altogether until the threat of the virus’ spread is over. What is scary, though, is it looks like this is just starting in these quarters.

Much of the reason is the mishandling of testing for the diseaseby the Trump administration. And we can extend that to Alabama as well. As APR’s editor in chief Bill Britt noted in a column Thursday, Alabama is woefully unprepared.

“On January 30, the World Health Organization declared novel coronavirus a global emergency, and the first known U.S. coronavirus case was announced on January 21. Alabama’s leaders should have known that a crisis was in the making and that it was only a matter of time before the virus would enter the state. This failure to act early has endangered lives,” Britt writes. “And even as the state’s health officer admits, the virus is already in Alabama, top leadership continues to claim it’s not. Even with months of notice, the state did not adequately prepare, is not now prepared and its anemic response is indicative of what has kept the state at or near the bottom in every conceivable metric of success.”

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My bet is by the time you read this, Alabama will have a case – or many. It’s not going to stop in a week or a few days. Remember, it’s March 13. The first case of the coronavirus in the United States was announced on Jan. 21, nearly two months ago.

Take a look at one of those maps of the states that have reported coronavirus cases or not. Alabama is white (no cases), surrounded by pink Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. If you think we’re doing something special in Alabama to keep the virus out, that’s wishful (and wrong)thinking. What we’re doing is not much. Period. We are slow to test. Earlier this week, not one hospital was equipped to test for the virus. That is finally changing.

There’s an important Republican primary runoff for the U.S. Senate on March 31 between former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville and former U.S. Sen. and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Both have been licking Donald Trump’s, err, shoes, though Trump endorsed Tuberville and despises Sessions. But if the coronavirus still is running rampant then, will people even bother to vote?

We should have the option to vote by mail, but Alabama isn’t that progressive. If you allow voters to mail in their ballots, that makes it a lot more difficult for Republicans to suppress the vote of those people they don’t want casting a ballot.

UAB, where I teach, enters its spring break next week. My expectation – not my hope – is that the university isn’t going to set free 22,000 students to travel all across the country then gather them back together on campus in a week. My expectation – not my hope – is that we’ll be conducting our classes online, not the most effective or efficient way to teach or learn, but perhaps a necessity.

Normal is gone for now, all across the world. Let us hope that what we’re experiencing now is not a new normal. That would be very scary.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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