About 20 parties, including one with nearly 400 people in attendance, were shut down at East Carolina University in Greenville during the school's opening weekend, campus police said.
The parties, which violate the state’s ban on large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, were held last week and over the weekend at ECU, Lt. Chris Sutton of the university’s police department told McClatchy News Wednesday.
Nearly 5,500 students began moving into their dorm rooms at the school last Wednesday, the school said. Most of the parties campus authorities have shut down since then were “manageable” ones with between 25 and 50 people in attendance, Sutton said.
“We’ve really had to change policing methods over the last several weeks due to different events across our country and now we’re having to wrestle with a pandemic since our students have returned to campus,” he added.
The party with 400 people was held a few blocks from the school in an area dominated by off-campus student housing, according to Sutton.
He said it was filled “predominantly" with people who were college-aged. They dispersed once authorities arrived. Officers then spoke with the tenants of the property “so that they understand why this is not acceptable right now and what they can do to help us moving forward,” he added.
Sutton says neighborhoods with bars and clubs would draw well more than that during "opening weekend" in years before the pandemic.
“Those numbers are much smaller than what we've experienced in the past, so that gives me a lot of hope that our student body understands what is needed to control COVID,” Sutton told WUNC. “And to be able to run it out of town.”
In addition to the typical patrols, Sutton says there are officers dedicated to a unit that specializes in breaking up large gatherings where COVID-19 could be spread easily. Sutton says those officers can enforce noncompliance with a review board at ECU, or involve the Greenville Police Department
Classes started at the university on Monday. Students were not required to be tested for the virus before returning to campus, but “encouraged” to do so by school officials, the news outlet reported.
There are two confirmed coronavirus cases among school staff, and 28 cases among students at the university, according to the school. Reported cases among students has increased by more than three-fold from the week prior.
As of Wednesday, ECU and the sports conference it plays in – the American Athletic Conference – intend to proceed with a football season this fall, too.