Why Walt Maddox won’t issue a shutdown

Cases are reaching a new peak in Tuscaloosa, but its mayor is reluctant to return to springtime restrictions.


CW / Hannah Saad

The photo above is from a March 12 presser, where Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox discussed the city’s response to COVID-19.

Despite rising cases of COVID-19 in Tuscaloosa that threaten older and younger residents alike, Mayor Walt Maddox is still hesitant to force another shutdown that could potentially harm small businesses in the community. 

In a Tuesday meeting with the City Council, Maddox said that between Dec. 1 and Dec. 8, the DCH healthcare system saw 130 new COVID-19 patients come through its doors. 

“Tuscaloosa’s cases are rising and this is the most precarious position since the start of the pandemic,” said Maddox. Madox said that these cases are being spread throughout the community and there is no evidence of any institution spreading the virus. 

In more than 20 of the past 31 days DCH has seen 10 or more new daily positive cases of COVID-19. The hospital, Maddox said, has “approached a manageable but fragile stage. DCH still has over 30 available beds and has not begun to reduce elected surgeries at this time in order to gain more bed space.

According to a graphic shown at the city council meeting, there have been at least 10,000 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Tuscaloosa County, with an additional 4,000 probable cases. At least 137 people in Tuscaloosa County have died from the virus this year. More than 98,000 tests – nearly the size of Tuscaloosa’s population – have been reported. About 10.5% of them were positive, which is slightly higher than the national average, according to Johns Hopkins data. 

“Now is when we should start beginning to see that Thanksgiving surge,” Maddox said. In a meeting last week, Maddox warned about an impending surge as DCH broke its single-day record for COVID-19 hospitalizations. He then stated that he expects another surge to accompany the coming Christmas and New Years holidays. 

Maddox said one of the questions he is asked most is why he is not considering another shutdown for the city. He said DCH has not made the request to do so. He also said that if he were to shut down the city, the order would only apply to the city and not the surrounding areas in Tuscaloosa County. 

Another reason why Maddox won’t shut down the city is because “right now we don’t have the ability to enforce it.” Currently, he said, only about two-thirds of the police department is on-duty. As of Dec. 8, 100 officers were on leave, with 34 out for virus-related reasons.

The shutdown affected many small businesses, leading some bars and restaurants to close down. Maddox wants to avoid that.  

“A shutdown isn’t necessarily a shutdown.” Maddox said, “Remember how many people flooded into Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes? How many industries had exceptions? You’re gonna have a lot, especially corporations, who are going to have exceptions under the law, so what you’re going to do is that you’re going to punish more of your small business owners.”