Gathering criticism: fears Dal party may lead to COVID-19 surge

Reaction continues to roll-in tonight from a raucous street party near Dalhousie University in Halifax over the weekend, but there are fears the long-term consequences could affect the entire province.

In a news release early Sunday morning, Halifax Regional Police said they'd responded the previous night to "multiple noise complaints on Jennings Street in Halifax, for a large out-of-control party with thousands of people in the street."

The annual university homecoming party had been ongoing most of Saturday.

Online posts suggested police had largely broken up the festivities by later afternoon, but by early evening, larger crowds had gathered.

An athlete in training, Dal anthropology student MacKenzie Kitchen didn't attend, but still found herself surrounded by revellers because she lives on the street.

"I didn't really know what to expect because last year there was no Ho-Co at all, really," she told CTV News.

"And I think people, because of that, they kind of went all out."

Ten people were arrested for public intoxication, and others were ticketed for liquor offences, but, so far, no-one been charged for violating public health orders, which prohibit gatherings larger than 250 people.

Police apparently haven't ruled that out.

"Well certainly that's part of the investigation that is ongoing, the public health orders, as well as noise and other issues that the investigation will bring forward," said Const. John MacLeod of Halifax Regional Police.

The university was also quick to react, issuing a memo to students Sunday evening urging party-goers to stay away from campus for a week.

The school also says it'll be looking for violations of the student code of conduct.

The student union, though, says the school has to shoulder some of the blame.

"What we also know is that Dalhousie currently has an on-campus dry policy," Dal Student Union President Madeleine Stinson told CTV News.

"You're also not allowed to have visitors in residence."

The sentiment is shared by HRM Councillor Waye Mason, who said in an online post he's working closely with Lisa Lachance, the newly elected NDP MLA for the area, and they are reportedly talking to Dal daily, looking for updates on discipline and consequences.

Mason also wants Dal to reconsider its dry campus policy, which he says has pushed parties to surrounding neighborhoods

There was reaction, too, from Province House.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston suggested there could be consequences for everyone, telling CTV News in a statement: "Reckless events like those this weekend confirm how important it is that we constantly remind our friends and family of the importance of following Public Health guidance. Getting back to a stage where we can loosen gathering restrictions depends on following the Public Health measures now."

Calling the events of the weekend "disappointing", the province's top doctor says he's concerned about the impact on our health-care system, and potentially in the weeks to come if the event results in spread of COVID-19.

"We are in the midst of a fourth wave and we all need to be careful of our personal behaviour, even if we are vaccinated," said Dr. Robert Strang.

"This pandemic has been hard on everyone, including students, but now is the time to take positive action – keep caring for each other and please get vaccinated. I also encourage students to get tested using a take-home test kit available on campus or go to a pop-up site.

"Those who attended these events are also encouraged to get tested at a pop-up site.

Infectious disease scientist Dr. Lisa Barrett also expressed concerns about larger, long-term implications of the gathering.

"I can be almost certain that there are going to be some infections from that, and we don't have the healthcare capacity to watch infections go up quickly in our communities," she said.