Durham police have reported an increase in the number of University of New Hampshire students living off campus who refuse to follow rules for social distancing and self-quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.
With UNH currently planning to reopen for in-person instruction in the fall, town officials are concerned for all residents’ safety.
Days after three students who lived in townhouses on Rosemary Lane informed their landlord they had tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a Cinco de Mayo celebration, 25 to 30 students and their parents gathered at the same outdoor location.
That report is among many that Durham police recently have received about the possible spread of COVID-19.
Deputy Chief Rene Kelley said that on May 16 — the day seniors were scheduled to graduate before the pandemic struck — police went to the townhouses several times in response to complaints about people blocking the road and drinking in public.
“It got to a point when they were in varying stages of intoxication,” Kelley said. “They were very rude and uncooperative with the officers.”
Ken Rubin, managing partner at Madbury Capital and one of the townhouses’ owners, said most of their student tenants have been responsible residents.
“We have been regularly communicating with our tenants both in written and verbal form about proper safety protocols from our company as well as reiterating official government guidance,” Rubin said.
Erika Mantz, UNH media relations executive director, said UNH has contacted off-campus landlords to make sure students understand the school’s expectations for social distancing and other guidelines.
“While there are still many unknowns, we do know that our success in reopening our campuses will require the support and commitment of everyone, especially our students,” Mantz said. “We continue to stress the shared responsibility of everyone to comply with safety and health protocols to keep our neighbors safe and healthy.”
Some landlords and parents are turning to police for help dealing with college students who might be spreading COVID-19.
A dozen UNH students who rent housing near Scorpion’s Sports Bar & Grill on Main Street tested positive for the disease after a large party, and the property owner subsequently notified police, Kelley said.
On Saturday, police were contacted by a parent whose daughter saw a social media post of a sorority sister, believed to have tested positive, at a beach. Police referred the parent to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Police contacted DHHS about a UNH student living at Jenkins Court who tested positive for COVID-19 when the property manager expressed concerns that the student was not self-quarantining as advised by a physician.
Kelley said while DHHS has administrative rules to enforce quarantining, Durham police do not.
“In other words, it’s not a crime or criminal offense,” Kelley said.
A student and her roommates reported three positive COVID-19 cases at their apartments on Pettee Brook Lane to their landlord because they were concerned about the virus spreading.
Managing partner George Kostis of Kostis Enterprises would not comment on the health of any tenant Tuesday, but he said they have been using medical grade disinfectant in all common areas of the apartment complex, which can house about 70 people.
“We’re trying to take all the right safety precautions to keep our residents safe as much as possible. We post, on a regular basis, CDC guidelines in the building so folks can see them,” Kostis said. “We follow up with emails to tenants with the same tips.”
Though officials are aware of these cases and other instances where UNH students have self-reported to police to aid first responders in emergencies, Town Administrator Todd Selig said 10 times as many people probably have the virus but have not been tested because they are asymptomatic.
“This is the new normal today and it will in all likelihood continue to be as more and more businesses reopen, as residents seek ways to resume their lives, as K-12 education seeks to resume in-person learning and when UNH and colleges across the nation resume operations this fall,” Selig said.
During a 50-second message about UNH’s planned reopening, President James Dean said, “I assure you, the health and safety of our students and the entire UNH community is, and always will be, our top priority, and this decision comes after lengthy analysis and planning. We’ll follow all evolving guidance and implement a wide range of health and safety measures to ensure we do this as carefully and responsibly as possible.”
In spring 2020, 14,284 undergraduate and graduate students were enrolled at UNH in Durham. Of those, 6,786 were New Hampshire residents and 7,498 were from out of state.
DHHS officials said there have been 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Durham.
Selig and Kelley said that data may not include all the UNH cases because students typically give their hometown when asked where they live.
“A kid living in Boston could test positive but is a UNH student and that information would be reported in Boston,” Kelley said.