S.C. officials suspend groups, students over COVID-19 rules

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The University of South Carolina has suspended six sororities or fraternities, as well 15 students, for violating COVID-19 safety rules, the school announced Monday.

The announcement came as the number of confirmed cases on campus passed the 500 mark. It also came as some student complained of long lines for testing and as Columbia's fire chief announced an apartment complex had agreed to limit pool attendance after officials broke up a crowded pool party Saturday.

COVID-19 cases in South Carolina have begun to trend up again after hitting a low in recent weeks. with the seven-day average of new reports back above 900 cases. There's been a notable spike in new cases in and around Columbia. Overall, the Department of Health and Environmental Control reports the state has recorded nearly 119,000 cases and 2,720 deaths.

The university said it has now quarantined nine sorority or fraternity houses, up from the previous six. Monday is the first time the university has announced sanctions against organizations and students, citing “unauthorized parties or large gatherings in violation of local ordinances or violating quarantine,” according to a news release.

USC President Robert Caslen had warned that students who break coronavirus rules could face suspension.

The university says wastewater testing results show rising infection levels. The school says it will be providing saliva testing beginning Tuesday to identify more cases in suspected hot spots. The university also opened a second facility Monday to house students in quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure.

On Monday, Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins told The State newspaper that he met with managers of an apartment complex near the university's campus, and that they agreed to limit the number of people in the complex pool area to 31, or 20% of its normal capacity of 158 people.

That came after Jenkins shut down a pool party with an estimated 200 attendees Saturday at the Palmetto Compress complex for violating the city's mask ordinance.

“The pool was fully loaded," Jenkins told WLTX-TV. “They had people in the pool, they had people around the pool, they had people on top of the pool house.”

Jenkins said one young man at the party told him, “I can’t catch COVID.”

“That was just a perfect storm to spread the virus. If someone in the crowd had it, it was just a perfect storm,” Jenkins said.

University officials criticized students and apartment managers for the party.

“We have engaged with private apartment complexes for months to educate them on safe public health standards,” the university said in a statement. "Unfortunately, some have chosen not to manage their properties appropriately to protect the community. We also urge our students to remember their responsibilities and please use good judgement, avoiding situations where safe social distancing isn’t possible.”

No one was cited Saturday for violating the city of Columbia's mask ordinance.

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