UW, Public Health – Seattle & King County responding to coronavirus cases in Greek system

June 30, 2020

Several dozen students living in fraternity houses north of the University of Washington’s campus have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. This is concerning and reminds us that outbreaks can quickly spiral, said Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb, chair of the UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases, which is involved in the response to the outbreak.

As of June 30, least 38 students living in 10 fraternity houses have tested positive. Public Health – Seattle & King County is leading the response, in coordination with the University, and is currently making contact with affected students. Positive case numbers will be updated here.

All of the Greek houses are independent organizations, governed by national boards for each fraternity and sorority.

“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,” Gottlieb said.

The student-run Interfraternity Council and the UW’s Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life are coordinating with UW Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S), UW Medicine and local public health officials to ensure Greek residents and others who frequent the houses are engaged in active containment of the outbreak.

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UW Medicine has set up a testing facility on campus within walking distance of the Greek houses. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for students living in Greek houses or apartments nearby to get tested.

Leaders from the affected fraternities report that students who have tested positive or with COVID-like symptoms are isolating in their rooms, and none have been hospitalized or reported severe symptoms of the virus.

Currently, there are about 1,000 students living in 25 fraternity houses in the neighborhood north of campus. The residents of the houses are being asked to quarantine or self-isolate, which means that those who have tested positive for COVID-19, those who have symptoms, and those who may have been exposed but are not showing symptoms are staying in their houses.

“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.”

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Students who live in or near Greek houses should contact the UW Environmental Health & Safety Department (covidehc@uw.edu) if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or suspect they have been infected.

As a reminder, public health officials offer this guidance during the pandemic:

  • Wear a face covering in public spaces
  • Keep 6 feet of distance from other people, whenever possible. Outdoors is better than indoors
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently

More information is available on the University’s COVID-19 website.

(Note: This post was updated to reflect how many fraternity houses are affected. For updated case numbers related to this outbreak, see here.)


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