TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Thousands of jubilant University of Alabama football fans ignored public health orders by spilling into the streets to celebrate after the Crimson Tide beat Ohio State to win the national championship Monday night.
Videos show a sea of people gathering on the Strip, the nightlife district near the school’s campus in Tuscaloosa, just after Alabama’s 52-24 win in Miami Gardens, Florida, the school's 18th national title. Some in the crowd were seen wearing masks, but most were not, fueling fears that the celebration could prove to be a COVID-19 superspreader event in one of the country’s hardest-hit states.
The crowds actually began gathering shortly after noon Monday outside bars, according to reports.
WIAT-TV, a local CBS affiliate, asked one young Crimson Tide fan waiting in line if he was concerned about being in a crowd during the pandemic. He said, “Not at all, no,” while some around him agreed and even laughed at the question.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has extended an order through Jan. 22 stating that "individuals will be required to wear a mask or other facial covering when in public and in close contact with other people."
On Friday, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox issued a warning against crowds gathering.
“We even have to change the way that we celebrate,” Maddox said in a video. “So this coming weekend — and especially on Monday night — make sure that we wear a mask, that we practice social distancing, that we adhere to the laws and regulations that have been put in place by the state, and particularly in our downtown, Strip areas and other places of entertainment activity throughout our city.”
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Maddox said, “We are disappointed by seeing the large number of people flood into strip area.”
Police tried to disperse the crowd by driving vehicles down the street and spraying a canister of pepper spray at the ground.
"Cheer, celebrate, and enjoy the success of our team, but please do so responsibly and safely. Roll Tide!," Police Chief Brent Blankley said in a statement beforehand.
People lined up to get into the bars an hour before kickoff despite the warnings, The Tuscaloosa News reported. “All bars are open and we’re ready to roll over Ohio State,” said a tweet by Gallettes, a popular student bar, long before the game began.
Despite the threat of COVID-19, the celebration eclipsed the size of previous ones during coach Nick Saban’s string of titles at Alabama.
According to The COVID Tracking Project, Alabama has the second highest per-capita rate of current hospitalizations from the virus, trailing only Arizona. As of Monday, 129,748 people were hospitalized in the state with COVID-19, More than 23,000 of them in intensive care units.
Alabama has had nearly 408,000 coronavirus cases and more than 5,500 related deaths during the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.