Although a city-ordained block party will not hit Uptown Athens this year, Ohio University reminded students that gatherings in violation of public health orders could result in fines.
In an attempt to prevent large gatherings Uptown this weekend, no ordinance was passed by city leaders in relation to the annual Halloween block party, a move which is done yearly to close off portions of Court Street.
“There will not be a Halloween block party in which there are stages, music and other events going on on Court Street,” the mayor said during Council’s Sept. 21 meeting. The city issued an official announcement on Sept. 30 about the event’s cancelation on both its website and on its social media platforms.
Dr. Gillian Ice, special assistant to OU President Duane Nellis for public health operations and a Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine faculty member, noted in her weekly update about COVID-19 that the university announced several guidelines for the upcoming holiday weekend.
OU students can't host gatherings larger than 10 people and are required under city law to wear masks when in public spaces, such as while walking on Court Street. They are also expected to stand six feet apart and continue wearing their facemasks when waiting in line to gain entry into a local business, including bars.
Students found in violation of public health orders face fines of $100; a fine of $150 will be issued to party-goers that “do not comply with public safety protocol.”
Ice also noted in her weekly update that the city will shut down nuisance parties or non-socially distanced gatherings.
Students residing on campus are not permitted to have guests stay with them this Halloween weekend and parking will not be permitted on campus.
“Many community neighbors in Athens are worried about Halloween,” she wrote. “Our traditional Halloween celebrations not only increase the risk for individuals, but for entire communities.”
Ice also said in her update that in Athens, she is witnessing a shift to community spread, which she noted is “particularly concerning” because of the county’s rural setting and limited access to healthcare resources.
“Our typical Halloween celebrations would make Athens particularly vulnerable this year,” Ice said.
During his Oct. 29 press conference, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said that Halloween parties “just don’t make sense” at this time.
As of Thursday, Athens County has ranked as No. 22 out of 88 counties in Ohio in terms of COVID-19 occurrence, with 344.4 cases per 100,000 people, the Ohio Department of Health reported. Also as of Thursday afternoon, there are 1,346 total known cases of COVID-19 in Athens County: 286 are active, and 1,058 are recovered, according to the Athens City-County Health Department.
Two deaths are associated with the virus in Athens County, both of which were men in the 60-69 age bracket, according to ODH. In the entire state, 208,937 total cases have been reported, and 5,275 deaths are associated with the virus.
OU’s COVID-19 dashboard breaks down cases of the coronavirus and testing associated with the virus among students and staff.
Of the 4,040 asymptomatic Athens campus students and staff randomly tested for the virus as of Oct. 23 through the university’s partnership with CVS Health, 286 have tested positive — a positivity rate of about 6.3 percent, the dashboard states.
As of Oct. 27, at least 994 students on OU’s Athens campus have self-reported to the university’s COVID-19 hotline that they tested for the virus. At least 492 of those tests came back positive, and at least 81 test results were still pending at the time.
Out of the at least 82 self-reported to the hotline tests for Athens campus employees, five have come back positive. At least six employee tests results were still pending.
The hotline data only accounts for those who self-report results. Young people ages 20-29 continue to make up the vast majority of confirmed and probable cases in Athens County.
The county continued to be labeled Thursday as a Level 2, or orange, county in the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System, indicating “increased exposure and spread” of the virus, according to ODH.
Athens County also joins the list of counties in Ohio that are labeled as having a high incidence of cases. These counties are indicated on the system’s map with a “H.”
ODH recommends those traveling to or residing in Level 2 counties exercise “a high degree of caution.”
DeWine in July unveiled the Ohio Public Health Advisory Alert System, the warning system that measures the severity of the virus in Ohio’s counties by several case indicators: new cases per capita, sustained increase in new cases, proportion of cases that are not congregate cases, sustained increase in emergency room visits, sustained increase in outpatient visits, sustained increase in new COVID-19 hospital admissions and intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy.
According to the advisory system, Athens County has triggered two of the seven indicators under the alert system: new cases per capita and the proportion of cases that are non-congregate cases.
The county had 190 new cases reported over the past two weeks, the system reported.
Between Oct. 21-27, the county had a non-congregate percentage of cases of 78.05 percent.
No counties in Ohio are classified as Level 4, the most severe public health advisory.