COLUMBIA, Mo. — Since the start of the school year, nearly 1,600 students at the University of Missouri have contracted COVID-19 and the university is taking steps to discipline those who are not following COVID policies.
Twenty-five students have been disciplined for not following the COVID guidelines Mizzou has set in place. Gatherings of more than 20 people are one of the restrictions, but one student said it’s still happening all the time.
“It’s virtually impossible on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night to walk around campus or downtown without seeing large groups of people usually intoxicated, not having followed social distancing guidelines,” Mizzou freshman Bradford Siwak said.
Mizzou has been reporting less than 100 active COVID-19 cases a day for almost a week. Director of Communications at Mizzou Christian Basi says the fewer cases are due to the restrictions in place.
“This is a community effort and without the help of the entire community, we can’t make this work,” Basi said.
“People definitely cooperate for the most part during the day and in class, but I think most of the transmission goes on after hours, socializing and partying,” Siwak said.
Mizzou Public Safety Information Specialist Sara Diedrich said Missouri State Police Department (MUP) has taken a handful of calls about parties this semester.
“We are responding to more of those types of situations because we are taking it very seriously,” Diedrich said. “We want to make sure our students are following the expectations.”
This year, Mizzou has expelled two students, suspended eight, 14 students are on probation and one person cannot enroll until the violations are addressed with the Office of Student Accountability.
Diedrich explained the protocol for what law enforcement officers do when called to a scene of a large gathering.
“The first thing they do is educate everybody there who’s a student about what the expectations are,” Diedrich said. “Then they gather the information, their names, contact information and they turn that over to the Office of Student Accountability who then do the investigation.”
Siwak said he called the Boone County Health Department about the parties, but they didn’t respond.
“I talked with one of my RA’s and asked her what would be a good action to take if I didn’t want to involve the police because I didn’t want any sort of punishment,” Siwak said. “They straight up told me they weren’t going to break up the party and I told them it was disheartening.”
“The health department is focused on determining what practices need to be regulated and then their focus in the county has been commercial businesses,” Basi said.
Basi said besides calling the police, there’s an online report available for students.
“Most of the reports that we have received are really about nuisance calls or large gatherings,” Basi said. “But, the catch with this is we need specific information.”
Siwak said he knew there was an online report he available but said he didn’t know enough information.
I didn’t know people’s names’, they typically aren’t wearing anything identifying or anything like that,” Siwak said.
Diedrich said community members or students could also call police anonymously.
“We are encouraging people to call if they see large gatherings,” Diedrich said. “No crime is committed if they are not wearing a mask, but they are educated on the expectations and they [police] do break up and ask everyone to move on.”
She said MUPD and Columbia Police handle large gathering situations the same way.
Siwak agrees with the university’s action but wishes he didn’t have to involve law enforcement.
“It’s a difficult subject because it’s a balancing act where there is a factor of public safety, but I wish there was someone to call other than the police,” Siwak said. “I think they are necessary steps that the university has taken because without seeing those sort of steps, other students would completely disregard the health of others.”
Basi said around 540 cases have been referred to the Office of Student Accountability and 13 student organizations are still under investigation all for violating COVID polices.
Siwak also hopes the university starts to encourage more people to eat in their dorm room with the changing weather.
“We’re going to see a lot of problems when it comes to dining halls being packed in December or November when the weather turns and people can’t eat outside,” Siwak said.
The online reporting system is only available for students and university employees because Basi said there were issues of fake reports. Community members can call either MUPD or Columbia Police if they need to report unsafe behavior.