COVID-19 Outbreak in UW’s Greek System Grows to 163 Cases

Update: As of 8 a.m. Monday, five more students in the University of Washington’s Greek system had tested positive, bringing the total tally to 163 students in 12 fraternities and sororities, according to the school.

Update: As of 5 p.m. Sunday, 14 more students in the University of Washington’s Greek system had tested positive, bringing the total tally to 158 students in 12 fraternities and sororities, according to the school.

Original story from Saturday:

The University of Washington is working to contain a COVID-19 outbreak among fraternities and sororities that had grown to 144 cases Saturday afternoon, up from 104 cases three days earlier.

Public health officials say it’s yet another sign that Seattle-area residents need to remain vigilant about the virus.

The UW outbreak, the second to strike the UW’s Greek system since June, involves students in 11 fraternities and sororities at the Seattle campus, where classes, most of them remote, started Wednesday. The outbreak, thought to have started Sept. 11, was identified with assistance from Public Health – Seattle & King County.

On Thursday, the university reported 104 positive cases among nine fraternities and sororities.

On Saturday, UW officials also reported that a total of 10 students in the university’s residence halls had tested positive.

UW spokesman Victor Balta said the university was confident it can “manage” the outbreak throughout the quarter, and is “prepared to address any outbreaks that might occur” later.

Still, this week’s numbers underscore the difficulties in managing a modern urban college campus during a pandemic.

Campus life at the UW has been extensively reordered to protect students, faculty and staff. Some 90% of classes are being taught remotely, Balta said, and in-person courses, primarily in health sciences, follow public health guidelines for social distancing. Masks are required indoors on campus.

Residence halls, which normally house around 10,000 students, have around 4,100 this term, with no more than two students per housing unit, each with a private bathroom, Balta said. Food services have been converted to takeout or prepackaged “grab-and-go” options, he said.

Testing is nearly ubiquitous. More than 1,600 students were screened during move-in to residence halls, when five positive cases were identified initially, according to a UW news release. And since Sept. 24, students, faculty and staff have had access to a testing program, run by Seattle Flu Study, which has enrolled 9,330 people as of Saturday, Balta said.

It’s a different matter with off-campus housing, over which the UW has limited authority. Fraternities and sororities have long been relied upon to police their own members and activities.

After the June outbreak in the UW Greek system, which eventually grew to 154 cases, public health officials warned of further outbreaks if students continued to socialize without taking precautions.

Balta said the university managed June’s outbreak with a collaborative approach with the Greek system that involved “quick testing and cooperation regarding isolation.”

University officials note that the 42 Greek houses are at less than half capacity, with about 2,000 students. They said 1,256 fraternity and sorority members were tested during their move-in process last month, and that more than 1,600 Greek system students had enrolled in the Husky testing program.

Balta said the UW could impose some sanctions on fraternities and sororities, including rescinding university recognition, “in the event of ongoing lack of compliance.”

But the university hopes to avoid harsh measures, in part because they could discourage Greek students and others from disclosing COVID-19 cases, Balta said. “If there were a fear of sanctions, that could make people hesitant to come forward,” he added. “And that’s what we don’t want.”

The UW outbreak follows an outbreak at the Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie, where at least 25 people have tested positive. It also comes as public health officials have urged resident to remain vigilant about masks and social distance as an approaching flu season is expected to put pressure on area hospitals.

Since March, King County has reported 22,916 cases and 767 deaths.




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