By Morgan O’Neal
There’s one college tradition that COVID-19 has not managed to cancel: house parties. However, these house parties now come with a high price tag in Oxford. The Oxford Police Department is issuing citations of up to $1,000 to those caught hosting a party with more than 10 people inside and 20 people outside.
Captain Donovan Lyons of Oxford Police Department said the department relies mostly on complaints to locate off-campus house parties rather than patrolling. He also said it’s hard to tell if the fine is controlling the house party problem in Oxford.
“We’ve had numerous noise complaints since the students got back in town,” Captain Lyons said. “The parties are still going on. I can tell you that the fine doesn’t stop them.”
Repeat offenders are fined more heavily.
“It’s my understanding that if there’s a repeat offender, that’s when the fine goes up,” Captain Lyons said. “Repeat offenders are the ones that get hit the hardest.”
As of Tuesday, there are 223 active COVID-19 cases associated with the University of Mississippi. Of those, there are 218 active student cases and five are active staff cases. This number does not include cases recorded that are no longer active. According to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, cases have increased by 24.3% over the last seven days and previously increased by 90.7% from 14 days ago to seven days ago.
Officer Rusty Rasberry of Oxford Police Department says the restrictions that are in place are not going to be a magic pill to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“If people continue to throw these parties, regardless of the numbers, we’re mixing people from different households and different areas,” Rasberry said. “It’s common sense there’s going to be cross-contamination, and we’re still going to see the virus outbreak which is what we’re really hoping to battle against.”
Rasberry emphasized that the sooner students comply with the rules set in place, the sooner they can enjoy all of the normal elements of college life again.
“We want to send the message that everybody has to pull together, students, Oxford residents, Lafayette county residents,” Rasberry said. “We’ve all got to pull together to stop this spread so that we can all have a normal fall semester.”
Still, students are desperately clinging to social life as their last bit of normalcy. Avery Robinson, a senior Integrated Marketing Communications major, was exposed to COVID-19 at a house party in Oxford right before the first week of school.
“On Saturday, I found out that there had been multiple people who tested positive for corona after the birthday party on Thursday, which meant I was probably exposed, and also meant that I had unknowingly exposed others throughout the weekend,” Robinson explained.
Robinson said she believes that house parties pose more of a risk to students than night-life on the Square, as the bars in Oxford have safety regulations their occupants must follow and must follow limited capacity restrictions. However, it is much tougher to ensure that people wear masks and stay six feet apart at a house party.
“The issue with that is the bars close at 10:00 p.m., which basically forces students to reconvene afterward at house parties,” Robinson said.
Oxford gained national attention in June when a coronavirus outbreak in Mississippi was linked to an Ole Miss fraternity party. As students itch to return to their normal routine, OPD is urging students to continue to wear a mask, wash their hands, and social distance to slow the spread of the virus.
“We understand that people want to socialize, but we’re just asking everybody to practice the safety guidelines and keep the number reasonable,” Rasberry said. “The fewer people that are there, the easier it is to social distance.”
In an email to the student body, Charolette Fant Pegues, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, warned students to avoid large gatherings as the holiday weekend approaches.
“I know, it’s college, but there will be time in the future to gather with your friends,” Pegues said. “If you socialize with a large group now, you may infect another person’s parent, family member or someone with a compromised immune system.”
Tracy Murry, Director of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct at Ole Miss, says the rules apply both on and off campus.
“We receive information involving possible violations of occupancy, unregistered events, and/or the Governor’s Executive Orders from off-campus and on-campus,” Murry said in an email. “We meet with students to discuss the allegation and determine if a violation occurred.”
The University of Mississippi’s Tiered Accountability Proposal outlines consequences for students who violate the COVID-19 code of conduct.
“Students need to know this could impact their school status,” Rasberry said. “They may take it a little more seriously.”