Columbia considering curfew as college students return


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Columbia is considering imposing a nightly curfew meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 as college students return to the state’s capital for the upcoming school year.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on Saturday announced 986 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 51 additional confirmed deaths. This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 104,874 and deaths to 2,156.

The new curfew is on the agenda for the city council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, The State newspaper reported. A previous nightly curfew expired two months ago.

Thousands of students are expected to pour into Columbia over the next few days as students return to the University of South Carolina. City leaders fear that some of them may not take necessary precautions to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Mayor Steve Benjamin mentioned those concerns at the last city council meeting.

“I’ve been having several conversations with President (Bob) Caslen at USC,” Benjamin said. “Obviously he has serious concerns about making sure the students are part of the solution, not a part of the problem when they return back to campus. We want to have some deeper-dive discussions on that. Obviously there are policy-making decisions that we’ll all have to consider, including ideas like a curfew again.”

Nightlife districts like Five Points, an area filled with bars and restaurants that attract USC students who stay into the wee hours of the morning, would likely be most affected by a curfew.

When Gov. Henry McMaster began lifting restrictions related to COVID-19 in late May, bars and restaurants in that area began reopening and were quickly packed with large crowds.

Caslen said in a virtual staff town hall meeting that he’s optimistic students will behave appropriately. But he acknowledged that “students are students and they’re going to do what they’re going to do.”

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