A Queen’s University professor has published an open letter calling for more action to prevent student parties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jeff Masuda, an Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, published his letter on Sunday, Sep. 6, 2020. He said he witnessed dozens of students partying in groups throughout his downtown neighbourhood on Saturday night.
Kingston Police received 89 calls for noise complaints in the University District alone over the Labour Day long-weekend. There were 16 calls on Friday, Sep. 4, 2020, 28 calls on Saturday, Sep. 5; and, 45 calls from the morning of Sunday, Sep. 6 into the following Monday. This does not include calls to assist citizens, or disturbances in the area.
Masuda said he went out on the street to investigate after shouts from the crowds woke his children on Saturday, Sep. 5.
“I encountered several ‘pods’ of students – perhaps two or three dozen on the block, who were sitting on the sidewalk, throwing beer cans,” he said. “They had just left a house party up my street – now occupied by four first-year Queen’s students – where two police officers were having a friendly conversation with the remaining students, seemingly issuing a warning to them. This was the third night in a row of parties at this one address.”
The Kingstonist reached out to Kingston Police to inquire about any actions police took to disperse crowds over the weekend, and have not yet received a reply.
Meanwhile, Masuda said he fears the students are undermining Kingstonians’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “The ship has sailed,” he said.
“In the past week, students have descended en masse to the city. They have shut down our beach and they have treated our neighbourhood like a giant outdoor bar. They have, epidemiologically speaking, turned the entire University district into some kind of pandemic outbreak incubator. None of this had to happen,” he said.
Masuda addressed his letter to University Provost Mark Green and Vice-Provost and Dean Ann Tierney. He also tagged the City of Kingston and Kingston Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore in his tweet, calling for greater enforcement actions to contain partying.
“It is clear to me based on my observations on the street that the University District Safety Initiative has not worked,” he said. “There were at least 100 students on my block last night and the previous two nights, likely coordinating with ten times that many on other streets, moving, mixing, spreading.
“The multiplier effect is hard to fathom, as will be contact tracing. In short, this collective behaviour of Queen’s students has been the perfect antithesis of public health messaging,” he said.
In apparent preparation for the return of the revelrous student population, City of Kingston announced updated nuisance party and noise bylaws on Thursday, Aug. 20. If nuisance or party bylaw charges have been laid as a result of the weekend’s activity, those numbers have not yet been made available through Kingston Police.
The City also issued an executive order to close Gord Downie Pier on Saturday, Sep. 5, and enforce social distancing in parks. The measures came into place after photos of large outdoor gatherings at the Pier began to circulate on social media.
Masuda is again calling for more to be done. “Now is the time for Queen’s to take urgent and radical measures, whatever these may be,” he said. “I sincerely hope that my experience and observations from this weekend can inform the rapid development of such measures in the hours and days ahead.”
The Kingstonist has also reached out to Queen’s University, with no response at the time of publication.