COVID-19 outbreak at UW Greek system grows

VIDEO: COVID-19 Outbreak at UW Greek System Grows

SEATTLE — As of Monday afternoon, 167 students who live in Greek housing at the University of Washington tested positive for COVID-19.

The University of Washington is working closely with the fraternities and sororities to stop the spread. Students who live in Greek housing are being given priority when it comes to testing. Monday afternoon, 1,700 students who live on and around Greek Row were tested.

“We want to reinforce we’re here to collaborate with the community, and we need them to know we are here to support them,” said Victor Balta, the senior director of media relations at the University of Washington. “We’ve been asked about sanctions that could be possible and that sort of thing, and we really want to maintain a positive, collaborative approach. We don’t want to give anyone any indication or reason to feel they should be dissuaded from sharing information. Right now, we’re entirely focused on gathering information, identifying positive cases so we can get those students isolated and get this entire thing contained.”

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This is the second outbreak in Greek housing. Last July, 154 students were sick. Balta said quick testing and isolating sick students helped get the outbreak under control. He hopes to see the same outcome this time.

When asked about the outbreak on Friday, Dr. Jeff Duchin, with Public Health Seattle and King County, said, “I think it really points out even a small number of COVID cases, if introduced to an environment where spread is easy, can rapidly explode into a larger outbreak.”

Besides getting tested, students are being asked to keep their masks on while they are inside Greek housing. The health department is helping them identify the best way to isolate students, even offering suggestions on how to move furniture around in common areas to reduce the spread. Balta said the university has also closed off areas that are too small to keep students safe.

Fall classes started at the University of Washington on Sept. 30.

Students were tested in residence halls on campus, of 1,620 students, five tested positive for COVID-19.   Balta said the University of Washington has more control of the residence halls— they have worked to move furniture around and close off areas that are too small as they work to keep students safe.

Move-in testing for residence hall students was conducted over four days last week, with 1,620 students tested and five positive cases identified.