Ohio University is welcoming Homecoming celebrations back to campus this fall, but the annual Halloween Block Party will not be held by the city of Athens for 2021.
As the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to spread in Athens among the vaccinated and unvaccinated, large group gatherings are a safety concern for community leaders.
The decision on whether events like Homecoming and Halloween take place is up to the university and the city, respectively. Both have been watching carefully as COVID-19 infection rates rise.
“The well-being of our students, faculty staff, alumni and friends is our top priority, and we have created a plan that will allow us to celebrate safely,” Jim Sabin, a university spokesperson, said about Homecoming in an email. “We ask visitors to be aware of requirements, such as masking while indoors, and we are working to create appropriate distancing for indoor and outdoor venues.”
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said the city took a similar approach when deciding if it would close down Court Street for the annual Halloween Block Party. It was announced Monday that the Halloween Block Party would be canceled.
“We are constantly surveilling the COVID-19 cases here in the city of Athens, and those cases are largely due to the Delta variant, which is extremely contagious, more so than the original COVID-19,” Patterson said.
The university is not involved with the Halloween Block Party. Although OU students participate in the celebration, it is not a university-sponsored event.
In the past, OU has allowed guest permits for friends and family of students to stay overnight in student dorms. This year, permits will not be given out and guest parking will not be permitted on campus, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said.
Students can plan on celebrating Homecoming with a parade through Athens, which will include the Marching 110 and Alumni Marching 110. Registration is still open for student and community organizations looking to be a part of the parade, Sabin said.
There are also virtual events planned for Homecoming week, such as OHIO Trivia Night on Oct. 5, Bobcat Mixology on Oct. 8 and a livestream parade party featuring Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Jenny Hall-Jones and “DJ A-Rock” on Oct. 9.
This year, the Homecoming parade will be larger in terms of parade length, Sabin said. The university has added a block to the parade route to allow people to spread out and socially distance. The parade will now end at the intersection of Park Place and University Terrace.
Though the city’s sanctioned Halloween block party has been officially canceled, the planning for Homecoming is underway and it is likely to occur.
The Athens Police Department has already been in contact with the university to set up the parade route, Administrative Lieutenant Jeff McCall said.
McCall said no significant adjustments will be made to cover the Homecoming parade, despite concerns surrounding COVID-19.
“We have adjusted to this over the course of the last 18 months,” McCall said. “It will essentially be business as usual for us. We will have additional staffing and we will handle any type of risks (as they) come.”
While the plans are set, Patterson is worried about the effects of large gathering for a parade, despite it being outside.
“I have a high level of concern, though, over those who are not eligible to receive the vaccine,” Patterson said. “That's going to be people who are age 11 or younger. That's the cohort right now that has no choice.”
According to a university news release, Homecoming Week 2021 will begin Oct. 4.