College parties have led to COVID-19 outbreaks on college campuses

Updated: Aug. 21, 2020 at 6:51 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Outside of academics, social gatherings are a major part of the college experience. However, with COVID-19 in full effect, many university leaders are enforcing social distancing guidelines in order to keep everyone safe.

While many colleges and universities are holding remote learning this semester, others are holding in-person classes on campus. With that comes the potential for large gatherings.

“Are we really going to not party and see our friends and all of these things?” said Tyler Yarbrough, a senior at the University of Mississippi where school starts Monday.

Yarbrough said he’s concerned about a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, especially after 15 athletes and one employee tested positive for the virus earlier this week.

School officials have created a 21-person contact tracing team. They will take violations of large gatherings very seriously.

“There are some accountability measures for those who willfully refuse to adhere to these safety practices or ignore them repeatedly so there’s an escalation process there that we go through,” said Jim Zook, Ole Miss chief communications officer.

Classes for students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill started on campus Aug. 10. The school has already switched to online learning due to a growing number of coronavirus cases.

Concerns grew worse after a video of an off-campus gathering surfaced online.

“I think it’s really sad, and I wish it were different, but I’m not going to pretend like I know more than all the people who study this. It’s their job to make this decision, but I’m still really sad,” said Ann Snyder, a UNC freshman.

A cluster of COVID-19 cases at the University of Tennessee spread from an off-campus house party last week.

“It doesn’t take very many people not following the safety measures for it to spread and then screw it up for everybody else,” said UT Chancellor Donde Plowman.

Plowman sent out a letter this week saying students who refuse to comply with social distancing orders will be disciplined and potentially expelled.

Her letter reads in part: "Students and student organizations that do not comply with this notice are subject to discipline under the Student Code of Conduct, which prohibits students from engaging in conduct that endangers the health, safety, or welfare of any person."

University of Memphis school officials say they are encouraging students to do their part by social distancing and wearing masks so the school can eventually expand access and operations to campus.

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