KITCHENER -- A renewed call for students to avoid large gatherings over Homecoming weekend seems to have worked.

Thousands of Wilfrid Laurier University students and alumni usually gather to celebrate being a Golden Hawk.

But this year the weekend looked a lot different thanks to COVID-19.

Instead of partying on Ezra Avenue in Waterloo, many students planned to spend the day with those in their social bubble.

Tori Tilley, a third-year Laurier student, says she’s celebrating with her five roommates and four neighbours.

But they’ll be doing it at a distance.

“Just us, and we’re gonna have a good time at HoCo,” she says.

“We’re just gonna hand out and have a good time,” says Carter Mastronardi, another third-year Laurier student. “It’s not that the day is gone, it’s just everyone’s partying on their own instead of together.”

Approximately 5,000 students gathered for Homecoming celebrations on Ezra Avenue last year, and the year before that, the crowd was an estimated 12,000.

“It’s a different year, so it’s a different Homecoming,” says Jason Coolman, the Vice-President of Advancement & External Relations at the school. “We had to move everything to the virtual format.”

That included a series of lectures, a pancake-making tutorial and an e-sports tournament.

“Students are being, for the most part, responsible,” says Coolman. “They understand the health situation and the guidelines.”

A nuisance noise bylaw is in place for Homecoming weekend.

Bylaw officers in Waterloo say they already had a few complaints on Friday night.

“No large gatherings, fortunately, but noisy parties where we issued warnings and charges,” says Shayne Turner, the Director of Municipal Enforcement Services for the city.

Police are also actively patrolling the university area, which they say will increase by Saturday night.

“The province has indicted bars have to stop selling alcohol at 11 p.m. and close at midnight,” says Turner. “That could result in more people out in the neighbourhoods late at night.

Students say there are many reason why they’ve chosen to celebrate Homecoming at home.

“I know there are a lot of tickets going out,” says Tilley. “I heard there’s a $10,000 ticket. That’s one reason, but even without that we don’t want to give anyone COVID-19, nor do we want to get it.”

Many of them are hoping that everything returns to normal sooner than later.