San Diego County on Friday sent cease-and-desist letters to eight College Area homes where it says large Halloween weekend gatherings were planned in “blatant violation” of state public health orders.
According to the letters, each house faces criminal misdemeanor citations and $1,000 fines for each violation of California Department of Public Health guidance limiting private gatherings to people from no more than three households.
Six of the homes are described in the notices as San Diego State University fraternity and sorority houses.
They include those of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Kappa Sigma, Pi Kappa Alpha and Gamma Phi Beta Sorority. Kappa Sigma, according to an SDSU fraternity and sorority status page, is no longer recognized as a fraternal order on campus.
The university issued a stay-at-home advisory for all students on and off campus from Oct. 23 through Nov. 2, campus newspaper The Daily Aztec reported. SDSU has reported almost 1,300 COVID-19 cases since its fall semester began in August, according to the university’s coronavirus tracker.
SDSU issued a short statement early Friday evening indicating that it supports the orders, saying that it requested such actions after working with county public health officials to encourage adherence to public health guidelines that ban gatherings with attendees from more than three different households.
Since an outbreak started on the San Diego campus in late August, the university has hired extra private security to police college-area neighborhoods, and SDSU said Friday that the enforcement has now generated nearly 970 notices of alleged violations related to health orders.
In addition to continuing to enforce the health order, the university said it is moving forward with “disciplinary sanctions, including suspension and expulsion,” though, as has been the case in the past, no specifics were provided.
All eight letters, each signed by Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, indicate that named fraternities, or those living at addresses not operated by fraternities, intend to “hold large gatherings” from Friday through Sunday.
“We were compelled to take this action because there is a great deal at stake,” Wooten said in a statement. “Let me be very clear, the region’s livelihood hangs in the balance and is directly tied to our individual and collective actions.”
Fraternity leaders denied any large gatherings had been approved or planned. Lee Abed, president of the Interfraternity Council at SDSU, “I have been in contact with all of the local fraternity chapter leaders multiple times this week, and I am fully confident that no fraternities on this campus were planning on doing any kind of parties this weekend."
Given that there are thousands of students not in fraternities or sororities living in the neighborhoods around campus, he said, there is no way to stop nonmembers from posting rumors about parties.
But students and others say partying is still going on at fraternity houses regardless of whether it is officially sanctioned or not.
“I’m almost surrounded by fraternities, and they’ve constantly held parties in this area this fall,” said neighborhood resident Molly Finberg, who lives on Rockford Drive. “They get really hostile when you do things like ask them to turn down the music. We’ve complained to SDSU ... but nothing seems to get done."
Meanwhile, eight San Diego County gyms have filed a federal lawsuit against local and state officials alleging that coronavirus-related restrictions on their businesses violate their constitutional rights.
The gyms' lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in San Diego, names three state officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, several local mayors, including San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and the entire county Board of Supervisors, among others.
Owners of two of the gyms — Metroflex Gym in Oceanside and Ramona Fitness Center in Ramona — have already made news with their public fights against coronavirus restrictions. Lou Uridel, who owns Metroflex Gym, was arrested in May for opening in defiance of the public health order. He’s now running for mayor of Oceanside.
Peter San Nicolas, owner of Ramona Fitness Center, became the first person criminally charged with health order violations in August, though those charges have since been dropped.
Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan, who originally levied the charges against San Nicolas, is named as a defendant in the new lawsuit.
Gyms were allowed to reopen in August at 10% capacity.
Rallies demanding more reopening have become a regular weekend occurrence in San Diego. On Saturday, the Thomas More Society is holding one at the County Administration Building.
The rally comes as the United States set a daily coronavirus case record with 97,088 new cases Friday.
The county on Friday reported 471 new positive coronavirus tests and three more deaths. While hospitalizations have remained relatively flat, the county has tallied 330 or more new cases on five of the past seven days
Dyer and Sisson write for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Staff writer Gary Robbins contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.