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Georgia college students throw massive party ahead of school year starting, ignoring COVID-19 guidelines

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A now-viral video posted on social media shows a massive gathering of University of North Georgia (UNG) students at party on Saturday night. Partygoers flooded the lawns of off-campus houses in Dahlonega, Georgia, two days before the school year officially began.

It is unclear who originally posted the video, in which dozens of students flouted guidelines against large social gatherings and few, if any, were wearing face masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

In a statement to CBS News, UNG's executive director of communications, Sylvia Carson, confirmed that a large outdoor party was held at a privately-owned, off-campus apartment complex near the school's Dahlonega campus Saturday night. 

"We are disappointed that many of our students chose to ignore COVID-19 public health guidance by congregating in a large group without social distancing or face coverings," Carson said in the statement. "The University of North Georgia continues to emphasize to our students and university community that everyone has an individual responsibility both on and off campus to follow guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC to prevent the spread of the virus."

Georgia has become one of the nation's hotspots for coronavirus cases. There is no mask mandate in the state. Governor Brian Kemp has said he encourages face masks be worn in public, but he fought efforts by local officials who sought to require masks. In an executive order on Saturday, Kemp extended a shelter in place order for "the medically fragile," and continued the ban on large gatherings, CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL reports.

According to state health data, young people aged 18 to 29 account for a majority of the coronavirus cases in Georgia — more than 56,000 of the state's 215,528 positive cases to date. People in this age group account for 1,446 coronavirus hospitalizations and 38 deaths in the state. 

Older age groups, which are more vulnerable to severe illness, have had fewer confirmed cases but more hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.

Many health officials are concerned that the reopening of schools may cause a spike in cases in some communities, and that younger people who don't take precautions could put many others at risk.

UNG is implementing several measures to prevent the spread of the virus during the fall semester, which began Monday. Students, faculty, staff and visitors are expected to wear masks while inside UNG buildings, and must complete a self-screening checklist before coming to campus each day. Those with symptoms are asked to stay off campus. Social distancing is recommended and occupancy levels will be reduced to help people stay six feet apart. Classrooms and common areas will also be sanitized by custodial staff.

The video of the party on Saturday night prompted many to express their disapproval and lack of confidence in school preparedness. 

"The first day of classes at..University of North Georgia begins on already proving to be a COVID nightmare..before Day 1..There's massive far as the eye can see, one's distanced and no one's wearing masks," wrote Rutgers professor Richard E. Ebright. 

"It is a choice dear students. You can have in-person classes, or you can have parties. You can't have both. The choice is yours," tweeted University of Arkansas associate professor Stephen Caldwell.

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