As It Happens

University of Alabama student describes life on campus with over 1,000 COVID-19 cases

This is not how Carlee Fernandez imagined her final semester at the University of Alabama.

Carlee Fernandez stopped asking for shifts at her on-campus job and takes most classes online

Carlee Fernandez is a senior studying criminal justice at the University of Alabama. A lot of her classes are online, but she has one in-person. And she also, until recently, worked at an on-campus residence. (Submitted by Carlee Fernandez )


This is not how Carlee Fernandez imagined her final semester at the University of Alabama.

Since the beginning of the fall semester on Aug. 19, the Tuscaloosa school has reported 1,052 positive COVID-19 tests among faculty, staff and students.

And while the university has announced new measures aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus, Fernandez says it's too little, too late. 

"Honestly, I've been pretty scared walking through campus just because you never know who you're going to come in contact with, who's been exposed and who's positive," the 22-year-old criminal justice senior told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "It can happen at anytime."

It's a totally different experience from earlier semesters, she said. 

"We would be able to tailgate for football. We would be able to actually sit down in the dining halls and eat. We would be able to go to club meetings and, you know, just hang out with our friends. And now it's really just school and home, or work if you work. So it's completely different," she said.

"Part of the reason I loved the University of Alabama was because of the extra-curriculars and the opportunity I got to meet so many different people all the time. So now that I have to be home 24/7, it kind of makes me sad."

Safety measures 

University spokesperson Monica G. Watts said in en email that the school put in place several protective measures before classes started up for the fall, and that it has moved quickly to respond to the outbreak. 

"Before our students came to campus in August, they were required to complete testing, training and reporting their daily health conditions. When classes began ... we moved quickly to enact our notification, isolation and quarantine procedures," she said.

"This week we have conducted scheduled testing of students who have become symptomatic and those who have been identified as potential contacts of positive cases, both on and off campus."

Students and parents arrive at the University of Alabama on Saturday, Aug. 15, ahead of the fall semester. (Vasha Hunt/The Associated Press)

Watts says 46 per cent of University of Alabama classes are face-to-face, while 34 per cent are a hybrid of online and in-class learning.

The school has banned student events and last week announced that it was converting part of a residence into an isolation dorm for infected students.

"To date there is no evidence of virus transmission in our classrooms, and none of our students are hospitalized. We remain confident that our distancing and face covering protocols provide a high level of safety in the classroom," Watts said.

'I don't think that they had our best interests in mind'

Fernandez says she's not comforted. As far as she's concerned, this semester's classes should be completely online. 

"I think it's really frustrating just because we wouldn't even be in this predicament if it wasn't for them deciding that us coming back to campus was the right decision," she said. 

"And they definitely made that decision for themselves. I don't think that they had our best interests in mind."

Fernandez says she's doing her best to stay safe. She stopped asking for shifts at the front desk of the student residence where one tower has been turned into an isolation centre. She lives off campus and takes most of her classes online.

When she has to be on campus, she says gives fellow students wide berth and wears a mask everywhere.

It's really frustrating seeing people not take it seriously just because they think that they'll be fine and they're not really caring about the effect that they could have on other people.- Carlee Fernandez, University of Alabama student 

But she says that's not the case for everyone.

"We've seen already the amount of students who were going to bars and who were partying, not wearing their masks, not social distancing," she said, adding that some of her peers have a "really selfish and entitled attitude."

"It's really frustrating seeing people not take it seriously just because they think that they'll be fine and they're not really caring about the effect that they could have on other people.

The mayor of Tuscaloosa shut down all bars in the city between Aug. 24 and Sept. 8.

Other students have echoed those concerns. 

Lila Bogle, 19, told that she was sitting in a lecture hall last week when a student behind her sneezed. When she turned around to say bless you, she saw the student had pulled her mask down.

"She was like, 'I only pulled down my mask to sneeze, it's not that big of a deal,'" Bogle said. "But it is that big of a deal! I couldn't believe that she said that because what do you think you're wearing a mask for?"

While Fernandez is frustrated with her peers, she says the bulk of the blame rests on the administration. 

"If they would not have brought us back to campus, we wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place," she said. 

She says 2020 marks a sad end to what had been, up to now, a pretty great university experience.

"It is unfortunate that this is the way that it's wrapping up," she said. "It's going to be a little bittersweet for me."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now