A gathering of five students on April 14 at an off-campus house resulted in three citations for violating the state non-essential travel order and for delaying an investigation, when students fled from officers informing them of the social distancing policies according to police reports.
Another incident on March 28 resulted in 14 students and one visitor being cited during an off-campus party for violating the town ordinance prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people.
The town ordinance, which prohibits residents from social gatherings above 10 people, was put into effect March 20, and the state order that prohibits non-essential travel outside one’s home was put into effect March 30.
The students involved in both incidents declined to comment.
“Safety is paramount. We are following the advice of people who are a lot smarter about this than we are,” Richard Rodener, the town manager of Elon said.
Roedner stressed the purpose of the policies stemmed from providing residents with education about best practices like wearing gloves, masks and avoiding unnecessary contact with others during the pandemic.
Elon students have been the only residents in the town cited for violating the state and local ordinances put in place due to the coronavirus, besides the one non-student who was with the first 14 cited.
Those involved were cited with class two misdemeanors, which carry a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. According to Associate Vice President of Student Life Jana Lynn Patterson, reports will be sent to the Office of Student Conduct, and students could face disciplinary measures from the university including fines and suspension, according to the Elon University Student Handbook.
James Perry, the assistant town police chief and police officer of 22 years, said such a penalty is standard when a town ordinance is violated, and described the strategies of how the town and department developed a response for COVID-19.
“At first we were working off of the under 10 people town order,” he said. “A week later, the governor changed his order to [under 10 people], so we were pretty consistent with the state.”
While town police will continue to enforce the mandates as coronavirus cases increase across the state, Perry said how these rules will evolve is unclear.
“It's completely dependent on the virus. We are in such uncharted territory with this,” he said. “There is really no way of knowing, but we are going to go off of the governor and follow his lead.”
Town officials have been following recommendations of the county and state, and its early response derived from town specific concerns about the student body presence on campus after classes were first moved online on March 23.
“The town board and staff were concerned about the impacts of a lot of social gathering of large numbers,” Roedner said. “Our timing was driven by what was going on here in town as opposed to other communities near us.”
The town police department has taken steps to ensure the safety of their officers, as well as residents. Patrol officers are working their regular shifts, but are encouraged to avoid using the offices if they can and limit their contact with the public.
“From a police standpoint, we have moved more towards warnings rather than citations and citations rather than arrests,” Roedner said. “Where it needs to happen, certainly that's going to happen, but they take the appropriate precautions of masks and gloves.”
Moving forward, the town is asking that students still on campus work together to follow state and town social distancing mandates in order to keep the number of cases in the town low, which to date only includes one person who has made a full recovery in isolation, according to the town manager.
“We are all in this together. We are all vulnerable. If I had a message to the students who are around, they need to take this seriously,” Roedner said. “The fact that we have only had one case in Elon, maybe what we are doing has been helping.”
The state stay at home order has been extended until May 8.