In a special-called meeting on Thursday afternoon, the Auburn City Council issued a state of local emergency and further restrictions to limit the spread of Covid-19 in the community after scenes of students crowding into downtown bars without social distancing or wearing masks went viral on social media the past two weekends.
The state of local emergency resolution authorizes Auburn Police Division officers to temporarily close ABC-licensed alcohol establishments that are not in compliance with the state's Safer at Home health order. The businesses would stay closed, or alcohol service suspended, until they come into compliance.
"This is a very difficult decision for us to make," said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders.
The resolution also prohibits walk-up bar service indoors, meaning a patron must have a seat and be seated to be served. Walk-up bar service is still permitted outdoors. If bar patrons are found drinking while standing, they could be issued a citation, said City Attorney Rick Davidson. Bartenders who serve someone indoors who is standing could also be cited, as could the bar itself. The citation would be $500.
In essence, the resolution just re-enforces restrictions and guidelines already in place with the state's Safer at Home health order.
The resolution goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday and is set to expire at 6 a.m. on Sept. 16. The council is expected to consider an extension at its Sept. 15 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Auburn police officers had taken an educational approach to enforcing the state's health order and mask mandate until about two weeks ago, when they started issuing citations in a more punitive approach. Multiple businesses downtown were issued citations over the past two weeks. Officers would primarily be looking to see that the social distancing guideline of six feet is being maintained, both inside and outside the establishment.
On Wednesday afternoon, Southeastern and 17-16, two downtown bars popular with Auburn University students, announced that they were voluntarily closing in statements shared over social media.
"This decision does not come lightly, but we feel that at this time it is the right thing to do for the health, safety and welfare of our customers and employees who we value so much," the statement said.
Auburn University announced this week that 202 students and five employees at its main campus tested positive for Covid-19 during the week of Aug. 15-21. Since the pandemic began in mid-March, 545 university students or employees have tested positive. Auburn University also announced on Thursday that it saw a 4 percent positivity rate from student re-entry testing, with 859 students testing positive out of a total of 21,315 tests, or about a 4 percent positivity rate.
“These numbers show we had a low positivity rate among our students as they returned to campus,” said Fred Kam, Auburn’s Medical Clinic director. “Through continued mitigation efforts and everyone’s help in being proactive we aim to keep these numbers low.”