Radford rejects bar closures, opts for limits on gatherings, as students return to campus

City Council to take a final vote Tuesday
Published: Aug. 1, 2020 at 12:01 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In Radford, officials are considering a wide range of coronavirus safety measures, including closing restaurants early, limiting alcohol sales and requiring masks in public, as students return to campus.

During a special meeting Friday, City Council expressed a preference for a number of restrictions, including limiting most gatherings to no more than 50 people, and requiring masks anywhere in public that people can’t social distance. Any violators would face a civil penalty.

More stringent measures, including closing restaurants at midnight, ending alcohol sales at 10 p.m. and charging violators with a misdemeanor, were all put on hold for now.

“I think we settled on a happy medium,” said Radford Mayor David Horton.

He says while the new restrictions are largely in line with what Gov. Northam has laid out statewide, he still thinks it will send a message.

“There’s a difference when a Radford officer comes up to you to talk about a state code that might be violated, versus something that’s been identified in the city of Radford,” he said.

Some of the more stringent rules - including criminal penalties for violators - could be brought back if the city starts to see a spike in cases, or if local hospitals get overwhelmed.

“We really have to monitor that,” said Horton.

In a statement, the university added: “Radford University is excited to welcome new and returning students to our campus and our community as we begin the Fall 2020 semester.

We have established very clear expectations that our students, as well as faculty and staff members, will follow orders by the Governor related to face coverings and gathering limitations. The University’s expectations and the Commonwealth’s requirements are not optional!

All Highlanders, especially each and every student, have a social responsibility to protect the health, safety, and well-being of our broader community. As such, the University has a no tolerance approach for those who disregard our community’s public health and best interests.

Students refusing to adhere to public health guidelines and exercise social responsibility will be held accountable. The University has increased the presence of the Police Department and Student Affairs on and around campus. We will be vigilant in our patrol efforts and related enforcement.

In addition to the University’s efforts, we will lock arms and partner with the City of Radford and its Police Department to protect our community.”

During the meeting, a number of local restaurant owners stepped forward to press back against some of the rules, including Kelsi Jones, co-owner of BT’s restaurant. She said closing bars and limiting alcohol sales would just push students to house parties and fraternity basements.

“Whereas if you come to my restaurant, we’re all wearing masks, we’re limiting the number of people that can come in, we’re washing and cleaning surfaces diligently,” she said.

Members of council say they’re also concerned what could happen if students don’t take health risks seriously. But Mayor David Horton is hopeful the new rules can help keep everyone in line.

“This does come down to personal responsibility,” he said. “And what we’re trying to do is to provide a framework to help that personal responsibility take place more clearly.”

Council will take a final vote on the new rules Tuesday.

However, anything put in place will only be temporary. Mayor Horton says, for now, the rules will expire August 31, and the city will use that month to figure out what else needs to be done.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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