West Campus party shut down by Fire Marshal’s Office due to COVID-19 violations

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The independent fraternity Texas Rho decided to put the ‘no party’ COVID-19 rule to the test on game day of the Longhorns’ football season opener.

It ended with the Austin Fire Marshal’s office shutting down the action right before kickoff, and issuing two citations to the organization. City of Austin Fire Marshal Tom Vocke confirmed the outcome to KXAN Monday.

“It was a no brainer for us,” said Vocke. “They have to have a ‘Temporary Change of Use’ permit to have a party in west campus. We’re not issuing those right now because of COVID.”

Vocke said that was problem number one, so they issued a citation for violating the TCOU permit — which carries a fine of up to $500. The fire marshal’s office also issued a citation to the organization’s leadership for breaking the current public gathering rule of having no more than 10 people together from different households during the pandemic. That citation carries a fine of up to $2,000, which the district court will make a ruling on at a later date.

Over the weekend, a Snapchat video was being shared on social media showing a huge crowd of hundreds of students at the party on Pearl Street, along with a Reddit post from a concerned citizen who told KXAN he called 311 to report it. He estimated there to be about 300 people there.

A KXAN reporter and photographer were also outside the Texas Rho house Saturday afternoon when the party was happening. They could see dozens of students entering the fraternity house dressed in game day attire and hear people yelling profanities at them.

Black tarps were set up along the fence trying to block the view of the party from the street, but you could still see many people not wearing masks and not social distancing.

In a statement, UT reminded the public that Texas Rho is not an official student organization with the university. The university suspended the chapter in 2018 due to reports of hazing and safety violations, which was formerly part of the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity.

“UT relies on the City of Austin and other authorities to enforce their rules off-campus in areas where our students commonly live. We remind all community members they can call the city through 311 if concerned the rules are not being followed,” the school said.

In addition to the party, five other complaints were called into 311 reporting parties in West Campus on game day and one complaint was called in for illegal tailgating.

Vocke said the Texas Rho house was the only party his office shut down, and the only party to result in citations. He said written warnings were issued in a few other cases.

Latest on 95 students who tested positive for COVID-19 while trying to get tickets to the game

Monday, KXAN reached out to UT Austin asked what happened to the 95 students who tested positive for COVID-19 while trying to get a ticket to the first football game of the season.

The free rapid test was a requirement for students Friday prior to claiming their Big Ticket to the Saturday game against the University of Texas at El Paso.

A University of Texas-Austin spokesperson said 95 out of the 1,198 students tested for COVID-19 before Saturday’s Longhorns football game, tested positive.

J.B. Bird, UT Director of Media Relations and Newsroom said only 69 of the 95 cases will be added to the UT COVID-19 dashboard because some of the students who had previously reported their positive test result to the university were in the clear.

Bird explained some students were still testing positive with the antigen tests, even though they were no longer infectious.

Unfortunately, the university said it didn’t figure this out in time to give those students their tickets.

“It’s a known result with an antigen test that it will detect the antibody,” said Bird.

He said the university will be better prepared for this scenario for the next home game.

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