Campus Beat Reporter
This past week, Isla Vista has witnessed a dramatic uptick in partying incidences. According to student journalist Max Abrams — who photographed the incident — nearly 500 locals searched for parties to attend on Saturday, making it the largest mass-partying scandal since Aug. 30.
The spectacle was a violation of statewide public health guidelines, which order residents not to host large gatherings. The most recent Health Officer Order issued in Santa Barbara County states that public gatherings — both large and small — are prohibited unless attendees can maintain proper physical distancing.
Many students have expressed the want to return to normalcy. The recent rise in partying can be attributed to large numbers of UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) students moving into Isla Vista for the 2020-21 school year after months of quarantining in their hometowns.
Public health officials have advised residents to not invite other people into their own homes. While what residents choose to do within their own homes have not been directly affected by the recent health orders, the Santa Barbara public health order issued on Aug. 30 prohibits any gatherings drawing people from different residences together. Experts say the difficulty of contact tracing for parties along with the lack of physical distancing makes the spread of COVID-19 much more likely.
On Sept. 29, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported that out of all COVID-19 cases in Isla Vista, UCSB students represent more than 60 percent of all cases. As of Oct. 9, there have been 241 total cases of COVID-19 and 1 death caused by COVID-19 in Isla Vista. Eight cases are currently active.
A new page on Instagram called @ucsb.party has taken to the platform to communicate their distaste with the current partying uptick. The owner initially created the page as a small part of a research project, but then chose to change their direction with the account upon the Aug. 30 incident.
“The account itself started out as a tiny part of the project, but the more I learned about how the issue not only caused cases to spike, but also caused dorms to be shut down and people to lose their housing, the more I became invested in the issue,” said the owner of @ucsb.party to The Bottom Line. “Ultimately, I would like for [the page] to become a hub for people to learn about partying during a pandemic, how to report parties, and how to hold people accountable.”
Students that have chosen to party usually argue that the decisions they make are their own, justifying the risks they take when partying during the pandemic. The owner of @ucsb.party connects this attitude not only with the fact that we live in an individualistic society, but also with the fact that isolation desensitizes people to the needs of those around them.
“I think there are progressive people partying as well who just have a care-free lifestyle,” commented the account owner to The Bottom Line. “It can be really easy to fall into a hole where individuals are only thinking about themselves — their own needs and wants.”
Some students also justify their “COVID parties” with out-of-context statistics surrounding the virus. At face value, COVID-19’s 95 percent survival rate makes the prospect of contracting the virus less critical for the people that party.
However, experts note that this statistic fails to represent the 250,000 deaths that have already transpired with COVID-19, as well as unique cases of the virus which have dramatically affected the younger demographic. On Sept. 29, the New York Times reported that a 19-year-old boy with no physical comorbidities died from the virus after it allegedly made its way to his nervous system. Though the medical specifics of this case have yet to be explained, medical officials advise everyone to take caution as COVID-19’s effects on the human body are rapidly changing.
Both the UCSB Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council have been vocal about social distancing safety guidelines on their social media pages. However, they have yet to release a statement reaffirming their stance on social distancing since the party footage of the Greek organizations, Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT), Delta Tau Delta (DTD), and Delta Gamma (DG) have been recently released.
Though some leasing companies like Playa Life IV have been actively recruiting travelers to Isla Vista to party, other leasing companies have taken a firm stand for public health and safety during the pandemic. According to Noozhawk, Sierra Property Management has gone as far as to terminate a lease with six tenants after receiving complaints and video footage of the residents hosting large gatherings.
The university itself has made some progress in holding students accountable for hosting large gatherings. On Aug. 27, the UCSB Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs sent out an email detailing the expectation for social distancing guidelines in Isla Vista and providing a protocol to follow when a violation is reported. The protocol affirms that any students involved will face disciplinary consequences for the violations, but the protocol does not address how to stop a large social gathering either before or during its time frame.
The current reporting system for partying in Isla Vista is not a police reporting system. Students have complained that though local law enforcement is better equipped to handle situations before or during a party, the UC police department has been minimally present during the recent partying incidents.