College Park braces for influx of students as pandemic continues

There won’t be many students walking into classrooms at the University of Maryland College Park this fall, but that doesn’t mean students who already finalized leases for off-campus housing won’t be moving in over the coming weeks either.

With the arrival of students, there’s a concern about house parties and gatherings that violate the Prince George’s County’s emergency orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

City of College Park leaders discussed their concerns and how to handle potential problems at this week’s city council meeting.

“It is preferable that those with the direct authority to enforce these orders, which are the police and the health officers, take the front line,” said Suellen Ferguson, the city attorney in College Park.

“The city can use its own laws, such as its nuisance law, but because these orders are emergency orders based on a pandemic response it’s better that the county level be the frontline for that because they are the ones specifically authorized to act.”

The University of Maryland Police Department also will be expected to play a role.

City leaders been placing decals marking 6-foot distancing along some of the sidewalks in the downtown area, in an effort to remind students to stay apart.

Leaders also met with bars and restaurants this week, as they do around the same time every year, to remind them about rules and expectations ahead of the start of the new academic year.

Some city council members lamented what they saw as lax or uneven enforcement when it comes to masks and social distancing rules inside establishments.

People are still limited to gatherings of one person for every 200 square feet when it comes to gatherings at home. But it’s always tougher to enforce rules on private property, though it’s not for a lack of trying over the years.

Ferguson, as well as City of College Park public services director Bob Ryan, said anyone who worries a neighboring home is not abiding by the rules should call 911.

County officials rebuffed that idea, asking that residents not call 911 unless there is an actual emergency.

“I think that’s going to end up being the most direct way, rather than calling the city and having us have to make the secondary call,” said Ryan.

Anyone who knowingly violates the county’s orders could face thousands of dollars in fines.

City councilman John Rigg said it was important for the city to make clear what the rules are.

He said in College Park’s case, county restrictions supersede the state’s restrictions whenever there might be differences — and stressed that everyone should be on the same page and speak with one voice when it comes to setting expectations about the enforcement of rules.

“We need to figure out a way to not get people caught up in the confusion,” said Rigg.


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