'Our problem is the student parties’: Oxford, other college towns on front lines of coronavirus battle

College towns are finding themselves increasingly on the front lines in the battle against coronavirus.

And Oxford, as the home of Miami University, is no exception, say city and Butler County officials.

Miami’s off-campus student residential population is more than 7,000 of the Oxford campus’ 16,000 total enrollment. In recent weeks that population has been the generator of growing trend of increasing numbers of positive tests for the virus.

“Every community is in uncharted territory but certainly college towns are in a unique situation. Our problem is the student parties, that’s where it (coronavirus) spreads,” said Oxford City Manager Douglas Elliott.

ExploreMiami parties drive Butler County back to Level 3 as coronavirus concerns rise

“We read about what is happening to other college towns and we’re doing the best we can,” said Elliott, referring to his city’s enactment in July of mandatory masks inside and outside for those who can’t maintain social distancing.

The University of Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina both opened last month and closed live classes days later due to spikes in student coronavirus cases. Among the many other colleges seeing rocketing coronavirus cases, some of those registering the highest numbers are Iowa State University, the University of North Dakota and Auburn University.

In southwest Ohio, the University of Dayton opened with in-person classes but switched to remote learning in response to its climbing infected student numbers.

Miami President Gregory Crawford joined a Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conference last week and said “this surge of cases really demonstrates the aggressive nature of this virus.”

Crawford has repeatedly warned that, without a reduction in coronavirus cases, the school’s scheduled start of live classes on Sept. 21 may not happen.

“We are working very hard to flatten the curve and turnover our current – and very concerning – upward trend,” Crawford said during the Governor’s online broadcast.

Much of the problem, said county health officials, are socializing habits of college students who are not take precautions of social distancing needed to tamp down spikes in local community infection rates.

“There is a substantial risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at college and universities, which is now being seen in numerous places across the country,” says Jennifer Bailer Health Commissioner for the Butler County General Health District.

“Even the best plans don’t always prevent the virus from spreading on a campus because of the traditional nature of college - social events, house parties, dorms, dining halls, and large classrooms. The traditional college experience has generally been about socializing. Unfortunately, the spread of this disease is driven by behaviors like socializing in close quarters.”

If Miami and other colleges infectious rates are going to decline, then individuals are going to have to change their activities, officials said.

“Behavior on and off college campuses should look different in order to reduce the spread and keep our communities healthy. Students, staff and the community should take individual responsibility by wearing a mask, socially distancing themselves from others and washing hands regularly,” said Bailer.