With college students nationwide returning to their campuses and partying to break in the new semester, universities are being forced back online. IU created a set of protocols to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prepared a course of action for students who fail to comply.
What happened to those partiers from a couple weeks ago?
IU is investigating an Aug. 19 party involving two homes on North Washington Street. A now-unavailable tweet showed a video of about 100 people gathered without masks outside an off-campus house.
IU Police Department Deputy Chief Shannon Bunger said the department responded to at least 50 calls for parties from Wednesday to Saturday during the week before classes started. He said many of those gatherings were not actually infractions because attendees were socially distancing, all lived in the house or had fewer than 15 people present.
He said many students arrived that Wednesday, which may have accounted for the increase. Bunger said he thinks the surge of party calls will settle down since classes have begun.
“We're counting on the students to do what they’re supposed to so we can keep IU open,” Bunger said.
What happens if I party anyway?The City of Bloomington announced last week that private gatherings could not exceed 15 people, a decrease from the previous limit of 50. The campus event limit is set at 25 and any larger gatherings must be approved by the University Event Request Committee.
If a student is identified to have been at or organized a party that breaks the city or IU’s rules, the Office of Student Conduct will send them a letter. Those students could face a summary suspension from the university, said Kathy Adams Riester, associate vice provost for student affairs and executive associate dean of students. Students facing this kind of discipline are not allowed to be on campus, participate in campus activities or go to classes.
“The action is pretty quick and swift in order to hopefully reduce the ability for continuing action,” Riester said.
Regarding the parties on North Washington, Riester said IU is still investigating, but multiple students have been suspended for attending the event.
Such suspensions typically range from a semester up to two years, but persistent infringement could lead to expulsion. The suspension is an immediate action if the provost or designee decides a student’s presence on campus “constitutes a serious threat of harm” to other students, staff or anyone on campus, according to the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, & Conduct.
A student can appeal their suspension if they send a written response to the dean of students within 10 days of receiving the suspension notice. The student will likely attend a hearing panel where they will present information and witnesses to try to overturn the decision.
“A huge group can potentially have people infect each other,” Riester said. “That's a pretty dangerous situation right now with COVID for the rest of the campus.”
Why are parties such an issue right now?
The coronavirus can be spread within minutes at a party where people are not socially distanced or wearing masks, said Dr. Cole Beeler, medical director of infection prevention at IU Health University Hospital. He said parties are one of the main risk factors for spreading COVID-19 on campus when reviewing positive cases throughout all IU campuses.
“I know that partying kind of comes with being in college, but right now, it's just a very different time,” Beeler said. “One party could easily ruin that situation for everyone else.”
Beeler said when college-aged people contract COVID-19, they generally have a minimal upper respiratory tract infection and do not progress to more severe symptoms. However, he said it is not impossible for someone this age to reach that state, and there is a possibility they could transmit the virus to someone at higher risk.
“Even though you might not be around people who are compromised and potentially at risk for having severe disease, you might spread it on to people who are,” Beeler said.
The coronavirus takes two to 14 days to develop symptoms, but a person is infectious 48 hours before showing any symptoms, Beeler said. He said 15 minutes within a 6-foot radius of someone who is COVID-19 positive could spread the virus.
“An infection can actually develop before you even know that you're sick,” Beeler said. “Which is really scary because that means that even though you feel fine, you might be spreading around to other people.”
What do I do if I see a large gathering?
IU has set up an online form to report COVID-19 violations. Riester said every tip received by IU is being investigated, but providing details makes the process much easier since many tips do not provide information such as an address or names.
She said if you see a large gathering it is best to first call police to break it up. Riester said police reports are helpful when the university investigates tips because the reports provide more information.
“The better information we have, the easier it is to investigate,” Riester said. “A lot of the tips haven't had super great information to allow us to be able to have enough information to determine if they are violating policy or not.”
The Bloomington Police Department will not respond to a gathering violation on its own, but officers will show up if there’s an additional infraction such a noise complaint or underage drinking, Riester said. IUPD will respond for the gathering alone and both departments can report infractions to the dean of students.
Since the large gathering nearly two weeks ago, Riester said students seem to have done a better job at complying to COVID-19 protocols. Both the Office of the Provost and the President sent emails to students last week in response to social gatherings that asked students to comply with COVID-19 regulations and said partying could force the university to close campus.
Riester said she recommends students find a small circle of people to socialize with. Along with social distancing and masks, she said it is better to do activities outside rather than inside.