Music blared outside a row of off-campus houses on Saturday near the University of North Georgia as hundreds of students packed the streets and front yards. Virtually no one wore a mask.
The huge party in Dahlonega, Ga., captured in a viral Twitter video, was one of a number of mass gatherings around the country this weekend as tens of thousands of students returned to college towns already on edge amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Local officials from Georgia to Alabama to Oklahoma reacted with horror and anger on Sunday, warning that unless students take social distancing and mask rules seriously, the fall semester could come to a swift end.
“Why?” tweeted Walt Maddox, mayor of Tuscaloosa, Ala., above a photo of hundreds of mostly mask-free University of Alabama students outside downtown restaurants. “We are desperately trying to protect @tuscaloosacity.”
Some universities are already battling covid-19 outbreaks, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill – where four different viral clusters have emerged one week after in-person classes started – and Oklahoma State University, where a single sorority house now has 23 confirmed cases.
There’s no national consensus on how to approach college this fall, with many schools going at least partially online and others trying mass testing of students. But other large schools are welcoming everyone back to campus and relying on masks and social distancing to avoid outbreaks – a plan, as local leaders noted this weekend, that could crumble if students don’t abide by the recommendations.
In Dahlonega, university officials chided the hundreds of students who gathered at an off-campus housing complex for the Saturday night party.
“We are disappointed that many of our students chose to ignore COVID-19 public health guidance by congregating in a large group without social distancing or face coverings,” a school spokeswoman told the Gainesville Times.