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Gathering at Superblock outside U of M dorms sparks COVID-19 concerns as in-person classes begin

The U says it's reviewing video of the incident, but students say the university isn't doing enough to protect students.

The University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus on Saturday looked like the typical opening weekend of the fall semester. 

But that's the problem – it's not a typical year. 

Photos and videos posted to social media over the weekend showed tons of students gathered at the U's Superblock, an area around four freshman residence halls on the Minneapolis campus, right before the start of in-person classes on Monday. One video shows a person jumping from the top of a structure into a cheering crowd.

The posts show students were not social distancing nor abiding by the U's Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan, which was put in place this year to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The U is still on step one of the Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan, which has students living and learning "almost exclusively" in residence halls for at least 10 days, noting that students shouldn't visit other dorms, businesses or residences off-campus. It also requires students to be back at their residence hall by 9 p.m.

If all goes well, the U's plan could move to the next step around the end of September. This would mean students could visit on-campus locations, like student unions, and the surrounding community.

Those who don't follow the Sunrise Plan could face disciplinary action, including suspension.

According to a Reddit thread, campus police did break up the Superblock party "fairly quickly." And the next day, the U sent out a letter to students who live in university housing, saying it is aware of the gathering at Superblock and thanked those who are following the Sunrise Plan, according to a post on Instagram.

The letter stressed the seriousness of COVID-19 and asked that students take advantage of the activities the U has made available, like virtual games, art and music, and encourages students to be outside "but with appropriate distancing."

In the days since, some students have blamed university leadership for not doing more to prevent gatherings, calling the university naive for thinking all college students would just sit in their dorm rooms when not attending class or going to the dining hall. 

Meanwhile, in a statement to FOX 9, the U said it's reviewing video of the event and will follow-up with students it can identify as is appropriate. 

"Overall, the University takes an educational and development-focused approach to resolving violations of student conduct expectations. Our goal is to ensure students understand expected behaviors and why. We believe that by focusing on education and restorative justice, we can contribute to the education and development of our students, and ultimately generate more positive behavior than sanctions alone," the statement said. 

The Minneapolis Department of Health told the Star Tribune COVID-19 cases that could be connected to the Superblock gathering won't be seen for a week or two, but noted that there have been cases among students who reported attending gatherings with other students.

BMTN has reached out to the U of M for comment. 

The University of Minnesota isn't the only school that's faced issues with students gathering amid their return to campus. 

A bar popular among University of St. Thomas students had a line outside of it the week before students there started classes. And Winona State University earlier this month went into a two-week quarantine following more than 200 COVID-19 cases among students and staff. 

In Wisconsin, the governor extended the state's mask mandate following a spike in cases at college campuses, including at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, which imposed a two-week shelter-in-place following a jump in cases. 

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