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Jan. 24, 2021

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College towns growing alarmed over outbreaks

Student COVID-19 infections prompt bar restrictions

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FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2020, file photo, Georgia College and State University freshmen Ashlynn Anglin, right, and Meghan Murphy, second from right, wear face masks as they talk while walking through the campus in Milledgeville, Ga. As more and more schools and businesses around the country get the OK to reopen, some college towns are moving in the opposite direction because of too much partying and too many COVID-19 infections among students.
FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2020, file photo, Georgia College and State University freshmen Ashlynn Anglin, right, and Meghan Murphy, second from right, wear face masks as they talk while walking through the campus in Milledgeville, Ga. As more and more schools and businesses around the country get the OK to reopen, some college towns are moving in the opposite direction because of too much partying and too many COVID-19 infections among students. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File) Photo Gallery

RALEIGH, N.C. — As more and more schools and businesses around the country get the OK to reopen, college towns are moving in the opposite direction because of too much partying and too many COVID-19 infections among students.

With more than 300 students at the University of Missouri testing positive for the coronavirus and an alarming 44 percent positivity rate for the surrounding county, the local health director Friday ordered bars to stop serving alcohol at 9 p.m. and close by 10 p.m.

Earlier this week, Iowa’s governor ordered all bars shut down around Iowa University and Iowa State, while the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Ala., did the same in the hometown of the state’s flagship university.

“What we’re seeing in our violations is they’re coming late at night,” said Stephanie Browning, head of the health department for Columbia, Mo. “Big groups gathering. They’re not wearing their masks, they’re not social distancing.”

In Provo, Utah, the home of Brigham Young University, the Municipal Council passed a mask ordinance over the mayor’s veto because of the influx of students from around the country for the start of classes Monday.

The outbreaks since students began returning to campus in the past few weeks have heightened town-gown tensions and led to recriminations between local politicians and university officials.

Meanwhile, California announced a four-tiered, color-coded plan Friday for gradually reopening businesses. It requires counties to meet certain benchmarks showing progress in controlling the virus. Gov. Gavin Newsom abandoned a reopening attempt earlier this summer because of a surge in cases.

In Arizona, another deadly hot spot this summer, a drop in transmission numbers allowed the Phoenix and Tucson areas to reopen gyms and some bars on Thursday. And Ohio let theater groups this week resume performances with strict audience caps.

The U.S. has recorded over 180,000 deaths from the coronavirus and 5.9 million confirmed infections. Worldwide, the death toll is put at more than 830,000, with at least 24.5 million cases.

Surging infection numbers around the U.S. have been blamed in part on young people ignoring mask and social distancing requirements.

Browning, who also slapped a 20-person limit on crowds, said the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus in the county is roughly four times higher than before students returned to classes. Chancellor Mun Choi said the university is not considering going to online-only classes, but it is canceling some events, including the homecoming parade in October.

In Iowa’s Story County, where Iowa State is situated, 74 percent of new cases over the past seven days were among people ages 19 to 24, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday. In the same time period, 69 percent of new cases in Johnson County, the home of the University of Iowa, were in that age group.

“It is increasing the virus activity in the community, and it’s spilling over to other segments of the population,” Reynolds said.

The University of Alabama has recorded over 500 cases of COVID-19 on campus since the fall semester began last week. In closing the town’s bars Monday for the next two weeks, Mayor Walt Maddox said that an unchecked spread of the virus threatens both the health care system and the local economy if students have to be sent home for the semester for remote learning.

Three of North Carolina’s largest public universities have abruptly halted in-person undergraduate instruction and directed students to move out of the dorms after hundreds tested positive following their return to campus.

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