CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is now employing two retired Urbana police officers to respond to complaints about mask enforcement and other COVID-19 safety violations.
But officials with the health district and the University of Illinois both said Monday they have been seeing fewer complaints recently, with UI police reporting a significant decline in calls for loud parties compared with the beginning of the semester.
The health district hired the two retired officers about two weeks ago to serve as compliance officers, according to Deputy Administrator Awais Vaid.
They go out on weekends to monitor compliance with COVID-19 safety rules and report back to the district, and they also respond to complaints on weekdays, he said.
Last week, there were between six and 10 complaints about mask enforcement and other issues at local businesses, Vaid said, and as of Monday, he hadn’t heard of any complaints from the past weekend.
“It’s gotten better,” he said.
The UI has seen a decline in large-party activity since it implemented a two-week lockdown, which ended Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
“We have seen a steady decline in large-party activity, and we’re seeing that the vast majority of students in line outside of bars are wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing,” she said. “We are also seeing a downward trend in positive tests for the virus. As of (Monday) morning, University Housing had just 22 students in isolation and 20 in quarantine.”
Kaler said interim notices of suspension have been issued to two fraternities, Delta Tau Delta and Pi Kappa Phi, as well as nine students. Among the nine students, five have been dismissed from the UI for “a period of time,” she said.
“Our Student Affairs team continues to review dozens of reports of misbehavior,” Kaler said.
According to a UI police report from last week, student Thomas McDonagh, 20, was issued a notice to appear in court for endangering public health for co-hosting a fraternity party. Police said he was stopped after they were called to the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house Thursday evening in response to a report of a large party taking place in violation of the local health ordinance.
UI police announced Monday that complaints for loud parties in the campus area dropped from 114 in the first week of the semester to 44 last week.
Of those 44 parties, 23 were considered to be in compliance with local health regulations that limit gatherings to a maximum of 10 people and require guests to practice social distancing. Another 14 couldn’t be located when public-safety staff arrived, police said.
UI police also said two UI students recently received three citations each related to a large party they hosted Aug. 28. The total amount of fines issued to each party host was $1,355 for charges of endangering public health, hosting a nuisance party and reckless conduct.
Recently, UI police and the university’s Office for Student Conflict Resolution have seen widespread compliance and cooperation with safety guidelines, UI police said.
“This is what we want to see. We are glad to see that, in the vast majority of cases, students are voluntarily complying and cooperating,” said UI police Chief Alice Cary. “We do not want to issue citations and fines to our students, and we do not enjoy being the party police. But the safety and the health of our community is our foremost priority, and right now, the global situation demands that we take this approach.”
Outside the campus area, “we haven’t received many complaints or calls for service in other parts of the community related to partying,” Champaign police spokesman Tom Yelich said.
“When we do, we try and obtain voluntary compliance,” he said.
While there have been fewer complaints about parties, Chancellor Robert Jones said he and other university administrators met with Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, who also serves as the city’s liquor commissioner, and bar owners Friday afternoon to discuss how to keep bars safe after pictures of crowded Campustown bars circulated Thursday.
“We were greatly concerned about what we saw happening on Thursday night,” Jones said in response to a question at Monday’s academic Senate meeting. “We had a subsequent meeting and looked at some of the gaps and some of the things that we were greatly concerned about.”
He said the bars are responsible for ensuring customers are seated and not going up to the bar to get a drink.
“And a lot of people weren’t doing that,” Jones said.
He said that Friday and Saturday night “were not perfect, but they were much better than they were Thursday night, and we will continue to work as partners with the mayors and the bar owners to make sure that they are adhering to the guidelines.”