University town restricts gatherings as classes set to start

The city that is home to Delaware’s largest university is cracking down on social gatherings as the new academic year approaches.

The Newark City Council voted Monday to limit indoor gatherings at private residences to 12 people. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 20 individuals. Officials said anyone aged 16 or younger is exempt from the ordinance and will not be included in the total attendee count.

City residents seeking to host a private gathering that exceeds the maximum permitted number of attendees can apply for a permit that would be subject to approval by the city manager’s office based on factors such as square footage and the ability to observe social distancing guidelines.

Anyone violating the restrictions will be fined between $100 and $500 and ordered to perform up to 20 hours of community service for a first offense. The fines and community service hours increase for second and subsequent offenses.

The restrictions do not apply to restaurants, businesses and other public venues.

Meanwhile, officials at the University of Delaware notified students Tuesday that they must provide proof of testing negative for COVID-19 before arriving on campus. Students also must abide by testing requirements, including random testing, during the semester. They also must complete a short online health screening each day before entering any campus facility. Those who don’t comply with the rules will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. The testing and screening rules also apply to faculty, staff and visitors.

The university is beginning the semester next week with mostly online classes but is allowing a limited number of on-campus housing spaces for students who meet certain criteria.

“All of us are feeling a sense of loss for the fall semester we had envisioned,” school officials wrote. “However, recent COVID-19 outbreaks at University of North Carolina, Notre Dame University, University of Kansas, Michigan State University and many others have shown that large gatherings are the single greatest risk to students’ health and safety and to our ability to fully reopen the campus.”

The university suspended in-person classes in March as government officials began imposing restrictions on businesses and individuals in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

A lawsuit filed against the university earlier this month asserts that students attending the school last spring are entitled to the return of prorated tuition and fees for education services that were not provided after the university shut down on March 11. The lawsuit was filed by the families of students from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts and is seeking class-action status on behalf of all students and parents who paid tuition and fees for the spring semester but lost the benefit of the education and services.

The university has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

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