Groups of students continue to congregate at Campus Gas

University officials are keeping a close eye on local bars and restaurants as COVID case counts continue to climb


Julia Ochsenhirt, Staff Writer

Active, on-campus COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed from 30 to 369 within the past week and a half. Large gatherings at nearby bars and restaurants may be partially responsible for the spike.

Campus Gas is a gas-station-turned-bar-and-grill that is located less than a mile from campus. In the fall, the restaurant’s many outdoor picnic tables seemed to be a safe place to escape from the campus bubble and enjoy a meal with friends. This semester, however, students have become dangerously lax about following the social distancing guidelines the establishment has put in place.

Some students have raised concerns about the lack of crowd control that Campus Gas enforced on weekend afternoons and evenings.

According to WSPD Captain Rick Newnum, however, Campus Gas received one warning about breaking COVID-19 capacity guidelines but has not been cited for violating any other rules. Newnum also confirmed that police had spoken with Campus Gas management multiple times to ensure compliance with state ordinances. 

Campus Gas denied any violation of COVID-19 protocols and declined to comment on reports of large gatherings happening at the restaurant. 

Campus Gas will remain vigilant in trying to keep its employees, patrons and community healthy by providing a safe environment within the guidelines of state and federal laws,” owner Ben Ingold said. 

Though these guidelines are technically being followed by the restaurant, some students are still wary about the large gatherings that somehow manage to propagate there.

One student who visited Campus Gas with her roommates was disappointed to see flagrant disregard for COVID-19 protections. The student described the atmosphere of the restaurant as chaotic and overwhelming.

“We were enjoying drinks at our table and swarms of people started arriving and did not stop,” she said. “There were people everywhere just standing around in big groups. No masks and no distancing. We left pretty soon after.”

Another student, who has frequented Campus Gas in previous semesters, was also frustrated by large gatherings at the restaurant. 

“I’ve really enjoyed going [to Campus Gas] to meet with friends outdoors … however, this semester the atmosphere has changed completely,” she said. “Large groups of students are gathering and ruining the casual experience. It’s sometimes impossible to find a table or a place to stand.” 

The influx of students at nearby restaurants and bars correlates with fraternity rush, which took place beginning on Feb. 2 and ended Feb. 10. Although all events were supposed to occur virtually, Dean of Students and Associate Vice President Adam Goldstein confirmed that the university had been made aware of informal rush gatherings at some local Winston-Salem establishments, including Campus Gas.

“We have been having conversations with [Greek] organizations,” Goldstein said. “We need the members and leaders of those organizations to make sure that [in-person events] aren’t happening.” 

Goldstein encourages students, faculty and staff to file reports using the COVID-19 compliance form if they notice violations of university restrictions. The form asks for the date, time and exact location of the incident, as well as the names of involved organizations and individuals. It also allows for photo and video documentation. 

“We want to get specific information not so that we can hold people accountable, that’s not our first priority,” Goldstein said. “Our primary concern is to make sure that students are safe and that everyone understands why there’s concern in our community.” 

While university administration can discipline students and organizations found breaking campus rules, the Winston-Salem Police Department is responsible for enforcing mask-wearing and the North Carolina gathering size limits at private establishments. North Carolina law caps gatherings at 50 people outdoors, and 10 indoors. Masks are required at all times — inside and outside — when social distancing is not possible.

Vice President for Campus Life Penny Rue urges students to avoid restaurants and bars until the surge of cases is under control. 

“Please think of your fellow students who may not have the number of options you do,” Rue said. “All of us grapple with the same restrictions for the risky behavior of just some students.”