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121 University Of Washington Students Infected In Greek Row Outbreak

The Seattle campus of the University of Washington, pictured in March, is seeing a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases among fraternity house residents this summer.
Karen Ducey
Getty Images
The Seattle campus of the University of Washington, pictured in March, is seeing a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases among fraternity house residents this summer.

The University of Washington announced on Sunday that at least 112 fraternity house residents north of its Seattle campus have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of students infected on Greek Row so far to 121.

The nine additional students who tested positive were close contacts of the residents, but do not live in the fraternity houses, according to a statement from The University of Washington.

The number of confirmed cases has risen steadily since the outbreak was first announced on June 30. At that point, 38 students living in 10 fraternity houses had tested positive. By July 3, at least 117 residents of 15 fraternity houses had self-reported positive test results.

"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," Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb, chair of the UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases, said in a university statement.

The university said there are about 1,000 students living in 25 fraternity houses, with residents asked to quarantine or self-isolate in their houses if they test positive, show symptoms or may have been exposed. Greek houses are independent organizations, governed by national boards for each fraternity and sorority.

As of Sunday, 171 students, seven faculty members and 35 staffers at the university had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The cluster underscores the risks of bringing students back to campus, a decision colleges and universities across the country are grappling with as they announce tentative reopening plans against the backdrop of a COVID-19 resurgence.

States in the West and South have seen surges in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. On July 2, Washington reported 716 new confirmed cases — its highest daily total since the start of the pandemic — and Gov. Jay Inslee announced a temporary pause on the state's regional reopening process.

The University of Washington plans to reopen at the end of September with a hybrid model of in-person and remote instruction, as well as increased health and safety protocols. Gottlieb stressed the importance of these precautions in preventing future outbreaks.

"What is occurring north of campus provides lessons for students as they consider their return to campus this fall," he said. "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. 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."

Greek life has also been tied to an outbreak in the South, where state officials linked a cluster of cases to fraternity parties at the University of Mississippi in June.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.