KENT, Ohio — The city of Kent has seen a steady rise in coronavirus cases. For the second time in a month, Portage County, where Kent is located, has moved into Red Alert Level 3. The designation is part of a four-level scale indicating the risk of contracting COVID-19 in each county.
To help slow the spread, Kent has passed an ordinance banning gatherings of 10 or more people.
"We continue to see outbreaks based out of large gatherings and that sort of prompted the necessity for this ordinance," said Mike Anguilano III with the Kent City Health Department.
The ordinance covers the whole city of Kent, but public health officials say the source of the outbreaks can be traced back to many parties being thrown by Kent State students in off-campus housing.
“The new cases are just blowing up in that 20-year-old bracket, and this ordinance is used to try to bring down those numbers. This covers the city of Kent. It's not just students, so students aren’t the the target of this. It just so happens that the majority of outbreaks are coming from student parties," said Anguilano.
Kent State University has partnered with CVS health to provide free COVID-19 testing for students, staff and faculty. The university will also start testing 400 students a week. According to the university's dashboard, 54 students tested positive last week.
When it comes to enforcing the ordinance, the health department will be issuing citations for those not in compliance.
The initial fine for disobeying this ordinance is $500. If that fine is not paid, it increases to $750. If it continues to go unpaid, the fine will be sent to collections for $1,000.
"The health department does rounds, whether it is the heath commissioner and a sanitarian. Or it is two sanitarians, or it's the health commissioner and a police officer," Anguilano said.
The fine doesn't come with a criminal charge.
"For the past several weeks, people have been able to contact the health department for violations regarding party size. Again, that is not something that the police department will enforce; we are still addressing the long-standing noise ordinances and nuisance party ordinances that we always have. So, things haven’t really changed for us," said Lt. Mike Lewis with the Kent Police Department.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to a city of Kent community page on Facebook to ask their thoughts on the new ordinance, and the responses were overwhelmingly in favor of the ban.
Kent resident Nicole Cunningham says she doesn’t mind skipping the parties if it means keeping her neighbors safe.
"I don’t think it’s a big deal to have for people to have less people in their house. It is just a very small thing that we can all do to help the greater good," Cunningham wrote.
The Kent City Health Department says this ordinance will be in place indefinitely.
Colleges have been a source of COVID-19 outbreaks since going back into session this fall. The College of Wooster decided to move classes online completely this week after several students tested positive. Other colleges are already changing spring breaks, and many are having students remain home after the break until the end of the semester to mitigate the spread.
Last week, three Ohio colleges had case numbers in the thousands: Miami University, Ohio State University and the University of Dayton.