Students living off campus at Ohio State who are throwing parties during Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order may soon face citations and other legal repercussions.
In an effort to enforce DeWine’s orders to slow down COVID-19’s spread, the Columbus and University Police departments are warning that holding gatherings will have consequences after 10 calls for service in the off-campus area were made this past weekend, Sgt. James Fuqua, Columbus Police public information officer, said in a text message.
“We are keeping track and there could be more severe consequences based on past interactions,” Fuqua said. “Each situation is a case by case scenario as to how we will conduct enforcement.”
Fuqua said no citations were issued for the calls made over the weekend, but people were educated and given verbal warnings.
However, the violation is a second degree misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $750 fine and 90 days in jail, Columbus Police Deputy Chief Michael Woods said in a statement.
Doreen Uhas-Sauer, who leads the University Area Commission, said she received complaints and notices from the community about 10-12 parties that occurred this past weekend. UAC is an organization that represents the concerns of residents, service organizations and business owners in neighborhoods near Ohio State.
Though some of the complaints were made about houses that have 10 or more residents, others were about what looked to be more traditional parties, Uhas-Sauer said.
“There were a couple incidents where there were a lot of people obviously invited to a gathering within the house and on the front of it, and there was, I’m gonna say in one particular incident, a lot of mocking of people who were concerned,” Uhas-Sauer said.
Uhas-Sauer said police responded in the way Mayor Andrew Ginther said they would: informing the students that their actions were a health risk and in violation of DeWine’s stay-at-home order, which prohibits gatherings larger than 10 people and advises people to stay at least 6 feet away from one another until May 1.
A universitywide email sent Tuesday from University Police Chief Kimberly Spears-McNatt and Columbus Chief of Police Thomas Quinlan reminded students that gatherings of any kind are most likely prohibited under DeWine’s order.
“OSUPD and CPD are taking this matter seriously,” the email said. “The usual guidance on partying smart does not apply to this pandemic. Parties or gatherings of any type, where anyone other than family or household members are present, are extremely risky and completely avoidable.”
Ohio State sent letters March 20 to students who self-reported living off campus, urging them to practice social distancing and informing them they could be subject to fines and other punishments from local law enforcement if they are caught violating the mass gathering rule, university spokesperson Dave Isaacs said in an email.
“Ultimately more important than the legal or disciplinary consequences, we also urge you to take your own and the community’s health and safety into account. Social distancing and other measures aren’t just in place to protect us as individuals — they are proven ways to protect the broader community,” the letter reads.
Stephanie Diaz, a fourth-year in social work, said she and her roommates can hear parties going on from their off-campus house near Indianola Avenue in the central-campus area.
“We’ve seen a bunch of parties going on even just on our street,” Diaz said. “We hear about frat parties that are still going and stuff like that and I mean, it’s making us mad because we’re staying home following the best we can but if other people aren’t doing it too, it’s not really fair to the people that are following it.”
Diaz said that the weather conditions play an important role in the frequency of parties.
“Whenever the weather’s nice, there’s people day drinking, with clearly — with more people that live in their house,” Diaz said. “But I don’t know what goes on inside people’s homes if they’re having people over other times, too. It’s just what we can see from where we live.”
As the weather gets warmer, the universitywide email sent Tuesday reminds students that violating the order may result in action by local law enforcement agencies, and depending on the circumstances, students may also be subject to action from the Office of Student Life Student Conduct department.
Diaz said she wants her peers to do all they can to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Other people’s actions do directly affect the people that I love and the people that my roommates love, so it’s just upsetting to see that not everyone is taking it as seriously as I think it should be taken,” Diaz said.
Updated at 8:52 p.m. with the maximum fine and sentence for the violation.