Students concerned for Boone social scene, potential COVID-19 risk

Gianna Holiday, Reporter

Thousands of students returning to Boone amid a pandemic means the Boone social scene changed quickly to socially distant bar lines and smaller groups of friends watching sunsets on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Students raised concerns about returning to campus with a possibility that some would ignore social distancing guidelines and get together in gatherings and parties. Gatherings increase the likelihood of spreading COVID-19 among students living in residence halls and off-campus apartments, as well as in classrooms on campus. 

On Aug. 14,  Delta Chi fraternity was placed under Interim Suspension and a National Cease and Desist after throwing a party. The chapter is being investigated for violating a Joint Council Safety statement with regard to off-campus social gatherings as well as state and local orders.

All four Greek councils released a statement on Aug. 3 regarding social events. No in-person gatherings are allowed that exceed the North Carolina cap set in place of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. 

Interfraternity Council President Sam Haggard said events were originally going to be banned as a whole. Now, events can take place in person so long as organizations mind restrictions in place and follow the law.

Since App State’s initial move-in day on Aug. 10, numerous large gatherings hosted and attended by students have occurred, including the 200-person house party hosted by Delta Chi on King Street late last week. 

An anonymous source reported another off-campus party near Hatchet Coffee.

“I live a little ways from campus, and there was a huge party at a house down the street from me on Thursday night,” the source said. “Looked to be about 30 cars packed on the driveway and spilling out onto the road. Saw a few people leaving, definitely looked like students.”

There have been reports of a few parties since the beginning of the semester, including Pi Kappa Alpha, known as PIKE, which is a fraternity unaffiliated with the school. 

“We are doing our best to try to sanction them through their nationals with the help of upper administration, but since we do not have jurisdiction it is hard for the Interfraternity Council to act accordingly,” said Haggard.

If fraternities desire to hold events, it is strongly recommended to be done through Zoom, and if not possible, they must follow proper social distancing guidelines and maintain capacities of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors. 

“Thankfully, most presidents understand the situation that we are in and I hope that they will stress to their members their actions of deciding to throw an event can affect the entire community,” Haggard said.

UNC Chapel Hill has already moved all of its classes online for the semester after 177 students were isolated after testing as of Monday, and another 349 students were in quarantine because of possible exposure, according to the New York Times. 

“I wholeheartedly believe that dangerous off campus events are what will make Boone the next Chapel Hill, not necessarily what happens between Rivers Street and King Street,” said Davis. “As much as people want to believe that our small mountain community is immune from many other problems that other towns and cities face, COVID is not one of them.” 

Under Phase 2, Roy Cooper has placed limitations of gatherings of more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.  

The order gives law enforcement the authority to enforce this order. Students could be subject to student conduct violations upon citation for gathering in large groups. 

Many health officials, faculty and staff also recognized that some students and residents would not take adequate precautions in preventing the spread of COVID-19.  This includes wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and hand washing.  

“If this spreads quickly and a significant number of people get infected, the university will likely move to online classes only,” said Adam Newmark, faculty advisor of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. “This could result in serious health consequences for some people and significant loss of funding for the university, which could result in cancellation of programs, furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs.”

A recent model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected that if 95% of people wear masks, more than 66,000 lives would be saved by the end of the year.  

“I would just like to stress how seriously the Interfraternity Council, especially myself, is handling any breakings of the rules that are in place,” Haggard said. “Even though our age group is a lot less likely to be affected by COVID-19 than others, we have to understand that it is easily spread and will in turn be able to strongly hurt the entire town of Boone and more.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that SGA’s four governing councils released a statement Aug. 3 regarding social events. The mistake has been corrected.