SEATTLE — A coronavirus outbreak among the University of Washington’s Greek system grew to 212 students Wednesday, up 35 cases from the day before. The latest surge in illnesses connected to off-campus fraternity and sorority houses in Seattle began with two cases reported Sept. 11. It is the second outbreak associated with UW’s Greek system since the pandemic began.
On Tuesday, the university and Public Health – Seattle & King County sent a joint letter to the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic chapters, urging members to step up and help prevent further spread by following established guidelines.
The letter goes on to remind students that failing to comply with university and Public Health guidance could lead to “additional steps” being taken, including disciplinary actions up to expulsion. Other actions, officials said, could include sending notices to landlords of off-campus properties, if parties, gatherings and “flagrant disregard” for prevention measures continue.
“This isn’t the college environment anyone was expecting, but COVID-19 is a reality we need to adapt to by changing our behaviors and activities for the foreseeable future,” officials wrote. “Driving down infection rates in order to minimize loss of life and livelihood requires sustained action and mutual support across all sectors of our community and we ask that you honor and abide by the Husky Pledge.”
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for King County, said failure to follow precautionary measures in settings especially prone for spread makes an outbreak inevitable.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the White House in the other Washington or a Greek house at the University of Washington, COVID-19 spreads effectively with close contact and crowding, especially when masks are not worn,” Duchin said. “Rapid testing, isolation of people with symptoms and a 14-day quarantine of exposed students are essential to containing the outbreak.”
UW is encouraging all students to sign up for the Husky Coronavirus Testing Program, powered by the Seattle Flu Study, to help track the virus’s spread and connect infected students with resources.
Health officials say quelling the outbreak off-campus will limit the likelihood illness will sweep through the university and its neighbors.
“We don’t want to see this spread to the greater UW community or surrounding areas or threaten our ability to have in-person learning in the future,” Duchin said. “I encourage Greek life alums and fraternity and sorority advisory and house corporation board members to reach out to your chapter houses and encourage and support students in taking the necessary COVID-19 prevention and response actions.”
Learn more about the outbreak on the Public Health Insider blog, the University of Washington website, and the case tracking dashboard.
How to prevent outbreaks in congregate settings (from Public Health – Seattle & King County)
Wear face coverings in all communal spaces outside of bedrooms in congregate living facilities.
Wear face coverings when interacting with anyone in social settings.
Socially distance at least six feet at all times.
Practice frequent and diligent hand hygiene.
Increase cleaning and disinfecting of high touch surfaces.