The Athens community is bracing for unlawful fests this month after Ohio University President Duane Nellis and Athens Mayor Steve Patterson issued a public warning March 15.
Flyers advertising fests have been circulating on social media, worrying university and city officials as the state ramps up vaccination efforts to combat COVID-19.
“So, normally, we'll put a flyer out ... it just has all the dates on it and generally a picture from the previous fest season to get everyone excited,” Logan Senhauser, head of Bricklife Entertainment, said. “But we just haven't done it in the past few years due to COVID. So … yes, I did put out a statement a few times to say, ‘Hey, there's still COVID rules enacted. We can't do these fests. You will get arrested. You will get a ticket.’”
Senhauser said the flyer circulating was neither created by nor affiliated with Bricklife Entertainment and Barstool Ohio. He believes it is a younger person who is underestimating the measures Athens City Police Department will take.
Bricklife Entertainment put out a tweet formally distancing itself from any gatherings and urging students to refrain from holding fests.
“I'm not involved with this,” Senhauser said. “OU Barstool isn't involved with it in any way. Please don't do that.”
Ralph Harvey, captain of the Athens Police Department, believes the warmer weather is increasing student activity.
“Generally speaking, our activity levels are increasing, but nowhere near what they normally are during the springtime,” Harvey said. “So, we're concerned as we always are, but we're not overly concerned.”
Harvey said APD adopted a system of education at the beginning of the pandemic, hoping a preventative approach to social distancing rules and the citywide mask mandate would be beneficial for everyone.
“Our officers are out on patrol, they're being proactive about any type of gathering that would violate the health department orders and trying to take action as early as possible,” Harvey said. “Those are generally warnings. And that's part of the idea … you can not arrest your way out of a pandemic.”
OU has also adopted a more proactive approach. Nellis and Patterson issued a press release warning students of the consequences of unlawful gatherings.
“Any gathering of 10 or more people would be in direct violation of the State Health Director’s order prohibiting public assemblies of 10 or more people, which includes festivals,” the release said. “As such, the City of Athens will not permit these events to take place as long as the Health Director’s order remains in effect.”
It listed possible consequences as suspension, dismissal from any public university in Ohio and removal of financial aid — all in addition to criminal charges.
“I think that there's a chance that this Friday people are gonna try and do Milliron Fest, and I think it's gonna blow up in their face,” Senhauser said. “I think the cops are gonna crack down on it so quickly, and they're gonna have no remorse. They're going to write you under ages, write you tickets for excessive social gatherings or whatever … not wearing masks. I'm sure they're just going to try and ticket as many people (and) as much as they can. And so I think after that, hopefully, people get the idea.”