An outbreak of the coronavirus has hit Greek row at the University of Washington. As of Thursday, the university reported that at least 62 residents of the houses, located north of the campus in Seattle, tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, four close contacts of the residents who do not live in the houses also tested positive.
The interfraternity council (a student-led governing board for UW fraternities) reported that at least 105 residents living in 15 fraternity houses have self-reported that they tested positive. The actual number of cases may be even greater, as the University works to compile more data on verified cases.
Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb, chair of the UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases, said in a statement that the news was concerning and that more needed to be done to stop the spread.
"While we were pleased to see most of the houses had previously taken measures to reduce resident capacity by up to 50% this summer in response to COVID-19, those measures are not sufficient without vigilant, daily preventive measures, such as wearing face coverings, physical distancing and hand hygiene,” said Gottlieb.
The approximately 1,000 students living in 25 fraternity houses in the neighborhood north of campus have been asked to self-isolate, as some who may have been exposed but show no symptoms. University of Washington Medicine has set up testing within walking distance of Greek row to make testing as easy as possible for residents.
Erik Johnson, the president of the interfraternity council at University of Washington, said he is pleased with the school's coordinated response to the situation.
"While the University of Washington interfraternity council is still working closely with the UW Department for Environmental Health and Safety and King County Public Health on determining the full extent of the current COVID-19 outbreak in our Greek community, I've been very impressed by how quickly our fraternities have responded to the ongoing situation and am thankful for the quick action taken by the University of Washington in setting up additional testing and resources for our students," Johnson said.
On Twitter, some commenters said that frats need to take more responsibility when it comes to prevention.
"Wisen up Greeks!" said one user in response to a story in the campus newspaper regarding the outbreak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is often asymptomatic or causes only mild illness in young, healthy individuals. Contact tracing has been helpful in controlling outbreaks, particularly as schools look toward reopening in the fall.
"The UW’s plans for autumn quarter that were shared earlier this week depend on King County being in Phase 3, so it is incumbent on all of us, including students and members of our campus community, to follow public health requirements so that King County can move to Phase 3," said Michelle Ma, associate director of UW News, the campus news organization. "We know students want to be back on campus, and to make that possible they can each lead by example in following the health guidelines that will help keep them and all of us safe."
Gottlieb, who is also a professor of global health at the university, echoed that the students need to take efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
“What is occurring north of campus provides lessons for students as they consider their return to campus this fall. If everyone does their part to keep each other safe, we can continue to engage with one another and with our studies in the University environment by wearing face coverings and remaining physically distant,” Gottlieb said. “If we don’t, measures such as what are now required on Greek row will be inevitable. My sense is all students want to return to some sense of normalcy, so I urge all of us to follow public health guidelines so we can do just that.”
Still, many college students, believing they are invulnerable to the virus, have ignored advice to take precautions such as mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing and social distancing, which can help stop the spread. Some students have even hosted COVID-19 parties, events where it's a contest to see who can get sick first.
Students and faculty at University of Washington have been asked to read the information on the school's COVID website which provides up-to-date information and resources.
CORRECTION (July 3, 2020, 11:30 a.m.): An earlier version of this article included an Instagram about a party at a fraternity at Washington State University, not University of Washington.