University Of Washington Students In Fraternity Houses Test Positive For COVID

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117 UW students living in fraternity houses tested positive for coronavirus as of last week.

As of last week, 117 students living in 15 of the University of Washington’s fraternity houses have reported testing positive for coronavirus, according to a report by The Seattle Times.

The university has confirmed 89 of those cases as well as four additional ones by students who visited the fraternities but do not live there. These numbers are expected to rise as more testing is being done.

Most UW students involved in the recent outbreak are asymptomatic and none are seriously ill, according to Geoffrey Gottlieb, the interim chair of the UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases and an attending physician with UW Medicine.

Dr. Jeff. Duchin, a health officer for Seattle and King County Public Health, is worried that young adults will spread the virus to those in more vulnerable populations. He called this latest outbreak “very concerning”.

The University of Washington police have reportedly observed some gatherings of 10-15 people at the fraternity houses this month. Since members of a fraternity live in the same household, they are still adhering to Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home orders, though.

The fraternity houses are off campus and monitored by the Seattle Police Department.

“A house party is not necessarily a violation of anything,” said Michelle Ma, a UW spokesperson. “For SPD to act, it would need to be creating a disturbance, such as noise violations after a certain hour.”

This outbreak comes as colleges and universities across the country finalize plans to bring students back to campus in the fall.

“It does make us worry about what might happen this fall,” Duchin said. “We understand there was a lot of socializing, a lot of risk-taking, not a lot of mask-wearing going on… When you do that and you don’t take precautions, you get a lot of COVID.”

Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said that they will continue to determine “what is safe and what is feasible” in regard to the reopening of campuses in the fall.

From this, the university will “end up learning a lot about this from the perspective of density of housing, and social gatherings, and face-covering adherence.” Gottlieb said. “I think the lessons for the dorms, the Greek system, is that we’re really going to have to make a strong effort to keep people safe.”

The president of the University of Washington Ana Mari Cauce said that UW is working to develop an honor code that would encourage students to speak up when they notice peers disregarding health recommendations.

Other universities in the state have been relaying similar messages. Washington State University told their students that they must follow health guidelines upon their return to campus, and if they do not, they “should consider other arrangements for your education in the fall.”

However, WSU sororities and fraternities are located off-campus, “which means the university is not able to dictate what happens inside of houses,” said Jill Creighton, WSU associate vice president and dean of students.

WSU already has plans in place to limit the number of students housed on campus from 6,200 to just below 4,000. Students who applied for housing may receive a letter telling them that there is no space for them and that they must find other living arrangements.

Other universities plan to teach classes both online and in-person to increase classroom space.

Kira Mauseth, a clinical physcologist and senior instructor at Seattle University says that keeping college students socially distanced may prove to be incredibly difficult given the need for connection after months of lockdowns. She says that “they’re desperate for connection” and are oftentimes risk-takers given the underdevelopment of their brains.

While some fear that young students may not take necessary precautions, others argue that college students desire to do the right thing.

“They do crave social interaction, but there’s a countervailing force — students want to do the right thing,” said Phil Weiler, WSU’s vice president for marketing and communications.

Read the full report here.

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