If COVID-19 was a college football team, it would be the USC Trojans from the early 2000s when they peeled off 34 straight wins between 2003 and 2005.
And for some odd reason, given the relentless way the virus has changed the world over the past two years, folks down at the University of Georgia somehow thought they could carry on like it was 1999 — or even 2019.
Check out this line from a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month:
“A UGA spokesman confirmed Tuesday that, as it stands now, the school plans to be completely back to normal this fall for home football games, with capacity crowds of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium. There will be no masks or social-distancing requirements this year, and Georgia will not be asking for proof of vaccination to enter the grounds. Tailgating also is being permitted this season.
Last year, because of the pandemic, UGA limited seating to just over 20,000, and masks were required.”
On Monday, UGA head football coach Kirby Smart was worried about his team dealing with that USC-caliber virus — but Vince Young isn’t walking through that door.
“I’ll be honest with you guys, I’m as concerned as I’ve ever been because we have three or four guys out,” said Smart. “We have a couple of staff members that have been out with COVID here recently. For us, we’re at our highest spike.”
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According to Smart, the positive cases have come from people that have been vaccinated, as the team’s vaccination rate is over 90 percent.
“We’re talking about breakthroughs,” Smart explained. “That concerns you, not only for players on the team that are unvaccinated that are playing and not playing because we want everybody to be safe, but it concerns for players that are vaccinated that we could lose them. This is the highest we’ve been since fall camp right now.”
One of the people that’s been sidelined is UGA’s director of sports medicine – Ron Courson.
“Ron’s doing good,” Smart said. “He’s had a tough run. You know, Ron is the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my life. He’s never not been in this building during the day. He’s never not been here two days in a row, including spring break and off time. It’s killing him, I think, to not be here. His health seems good. Hopefully, he’ll be back.”
No matter what Smart or his program has done to protect themselves – and others – a lot of the blame will be pointed at the folks that sign his checks, given that they decided not to enforce mandates at Sanford Stadium.
“We don’t have our hospitals now, they’re COVID centers,” Georgia City Councilman Jim Sells recently told Newsweek. The 71-year-old was an anti-vaxxer, but that was before he spent 16 days in the hospital with the virus. “We need our hospital back, the vaccine is the quickest way.”
The death toll in the state for COVID has passed the 20,000 mark, as ICU beds are at 95-percent capacity. And reportedly, only 42 percent of Georgia residents are fully vaccinated, which is 10 percent lower than the national rate.
“Now what we choose to do over the next 72 to 96 hours is going to determine a lot of within the next two to three months, on whether we start to continue to burn our hospital systems, burn out our health care workers, keep our kids in school, keep our businesses running, and moving on with moving forward and coexisting with COVID-19,” Mayor Derek Kawakami of Kauai County, Hawaii, told CNN before the start of Labor Day weekend. His state, along with Georgia, are two of the hotspots across the country that are setting hospitalization records. And as we wait to see what effect the holiday will have on things, it’s impossible to ignore Smart’s comments that occurred after his team played their season opener over that weekend.
“I think there’s this relief that you guys feel like everything’s back to normal — well it’s really just not for us right now,” Smart added on Monday.
A day before UGA played Clemson in Charlotte at the Duke’s Mayo Classic, another Georgia college was being smart and decided to protect its players and student body.
“The state has the sixth-highest per capita infection rate in the nation and an unprecedented number of young people have become ill with the virus,” said Morehouse President David Thomas in a statement that canceled the school’s homecoming events for the second consecutive year, along with decreasing ticket sales for games. “Given the circumstances, a massive in-person gathering on our campus presents a public health risk to our students which is impossible to ignore.”
Despite being close to a 100 percent vaccination rate for all students and employees, Morehouse has chosen to shut things down in the name of safety, as last year they were one of the first schools to cancel all fall sports.
On Saturday, UGA will host UAB in their home opener. There has been no update yet on whether masks or proof of vaccination may come back into the picture, or if seating may be limited. Hopefully, the school makes the right decision. But, given everything that we’ve ever known about Georgia, they probably won’t. Which is the sad thing, because it didn’t have to be this way. Especially for a school whose most popular major… is Biology.