Reports of Alabama fan dying of COVID-19 after attending men's NCAA tournament lead to investigation

Emily Hopkins, Indianapolis Star
·2 min read

INDIANAPOLIS – The Marion County Health Department is investigating whether anyone was exposed by Alabama residents after news reports of an NCAA fan dying of complications of COVID-19.

Luke Ratliff, 23, a student at the University of Alabama, died after a brief illness days after attending the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, his father confirmed. Multiple people told The Tuscaloosa News that he had died of complications related to COVID-19.

Ratliff, a major fan of the school's basketball team, was hospitalized shortly after returning to Tuscaloosa on March 29. He had attended the school's game against UCLA at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis the night before.

Luke Ratliff leads the cheers in the student seating area as the Crimson Tide hosts Vandy on Feb. 20 in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Luke Ratliff leads the cheers in the student seating area as the Crimson Tide hosts Vandy on Feb. 20 in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

It is unclear whether he had contracted the virus before, during or after his visit to Indianapolis or where he contracted the virus. It's unknown whether he was symptomatic in Indianapolis.

Saturday, the Marion County Public Health Department did not specify whether it was speaking of Ratliff's case but confirmed it reached out to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

"We are conducting an investigation following the county and state's standard contact tracing procedures. We continue to encourage residents and visitors to practice the simple and important habits that keep us all safe: wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing," the agency said in an emailed statement.

Luke Ratliff was often the most visible fan at Crimson Tide basketball games. “When I came to campus, my fandom exploded,” he said.
Luke Ratliff was often the most visible fan at Crimson Tide basketball games. “When I came to campus, my fandom exploded,” he said.

Monica Watts, associate vice president for communication at the University of Alabama, said contact tracing is handled by the state's Health Department. She said she could not share details on Ratliff's case because of privacy laws.

Marion County health officials said they would conduct a "robust" contact tracing regimen to ensure games were safe.

"If you're a spectator ... I will know who you are. I will know what spectator is sitting in a seat. I will know what hotel you're staying at if you're staying at a hotel," MCPHD Director Virginia Caine said this month.

"So I'll be able to quickly and very robustly be able to identify anyone who turns out to be positive in our community, and we can do our investigative evaluation recommendations and testing very rapidly," she said.

Ratliff, a North Carolina native, became known on UA's campus as the most visible fan at Crimson Tide basketball games.

“When I came to campus, my fandom exploded,” he told The Tuscaloosa News in a profile published last month. “I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the history of Alabama basketball, and you couple that with being a student here at the university and something special happens.”

Contributing: Cecil Hurt, Tuscaloosa News

Emily Hopkins is a data reporter for IndyStar's investigative team. Reach them at 317-444-6409 or emily.hopkins@indystar.com.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: NCAA tournament fan dies from COVID after attending game, reports say