College students have returned to campuses and officials in Mansfield and Windham are calling on people in the community to limit gatherings to 25 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a news conference on Friday morning, Mansfield mayor Toni Moran called on the governor to issue an order that will help towns limit the size of gatherings. She said Mansfield's population nearly doubles when students return to UConn.
"We're here today to ask the governor to issue an order giving municipalities the authority to protect the safety of our communities by officially and preemptively limiting the size of private gatherings ...," she said.
The area is home to the University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut State University.
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Officials held the news conference outside Mansfield Town Hall and urged residents, including college students, to refrain from gathering in large groups to socialize after people from across the state and the country moved to the area.
"In communities like Mansfield and Windham, where the reopening of higher education means a massive influx of people from other towns, states and countries, the potential for serious COVID spreading is very real," Moran said.
The current state guidelines for gatherings are to limit Indoor private gatherings to 25 people, for outdoor private gatherings to be limited to 100 people and for outdoor organized gatherings to be capped at 500 people.
Moran said it's not enough to break up a gathering where people are not obeying social distancing rules, the gathering itself is the threat.
“If there is one super-spreader event in town, we may have to close our schools again and UConn may have also to reconsider in-person education,” Moran said.
While there is no official order, she is calling on residents to limit gatherings to 25, gather outside if possible and wear masks.
Moran said they have resident state troopers and they would need authority from the state to be able to fine people for gatherings that are not illegal by state guidelines.
She said the community is very concerned about the possibility of transmission of the virus with an influx of people.
Windham Acting Mayor Tom DeVivo said the community is happy to welcome the students back
"But many young people feel confident they will avoid this very serious illness of COVID. They have created challenges throughout our communities of Windham and Mansfield with large gatherings and get-together in the past and we're just hopeful that we can send a clear message that this isn't going to be a positive thing in the future," DeVivo said. "They take risks that put everyone else at risk."
He also asked for the community to limit gatherings to 25 people or less and to hold them outside if possible.
UConn has already evicted some students after learning about a large party in a dorm room with some students not wearing masks. The school also sent out a warning against social gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ben Shaiken, the deputy mayor of Mansfield, said the governor has provided support from extra state police, patrolling on party nights, but he said it's not enough to break up parties.
State Rep. Brian Smith said he understands the desire to meet up with old friends and that desire is stronger now, especially after being apart for so long, but students need to be responsible and think about the impact their actions could have on the community.
People who participating in the news conference include Mansfield Mayor Toni Moran, Windham Acting Mayor Tom DeVivo, State Rep. Gregg Haddad, State Rep. Susan Johnson, State Rep. Brian Smith and others.