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University of Washington and Greek Row struggle to contain COVID-19 outbreak

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As the coronavirus spreads through the University of Washington’s fraternities and sororities, the school contends it can’t do much to contain the outbreak — the second to hit Greek Row since June.

UW and local public health officials have advised the students on safety, met with chapter presidents and had them submit COVID-19 prevention plans. But students who live nearby report big parties that stretch into the early-morning hours and seem to invite further infections — and the cluster is starting to have effects beyond the Greek system.

The current outbreak was identified Sept. 11 with two cases and has grown to 179 as of Tuesday afternoon. The number of confirmed cases has climbed by about 37% in just the past four days, from 131 cases as of 4 p.m. Friday, according to the university’s tally.

Two weeks ago, Annie Stephens moved into McCarty Hall, which is on the northern edge of campus and across Northeast 45th Street from Greek Row. She said she could hear loud Greek Row parties every night until Sunday.

“It’s pretty frustrating to hear big parties happening every single night while people in dorms are being told that they can’t even be in an elevator with more than three people,” Stephens said.

UW has instituted outbreak prevention restrictions in dormitories, such as restricting the number of people who can ride in an elevator, closing some common spaces and moving furniture in common places to encourage adequate distancing, said university spokesperson Victor Balta.

“Certainly, the university has more control over the spaces that it operates, such as residence halls and dining areas,” he said.

The university contends its options are limited because the 45-house Greek system is located off-campus, but fraternities and sororities could lose university recognition if there are ongoing compliance issues, Balta said.

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The 2020 Hurricane Season Sounds More Like Fraternity Row

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Only one other year on record (2005) had to transition to the Greek letters for naming storms. The hyperactive 2020 hurricane season is well into the Greek letter alphabet with about two months of potential activity ahead. The National Hurricane Center is watching several tropical systems, including one that could impact the Gulf Coast next week. Here’s why the hurricane season is starting to sound like fraternity or sorority row on a college campus.

Currently, Tropical Storm Gamma (the third letter in the Greek alphabet) is being monitored. According to the National Hurricane Center, Gamma is just offshore of the northern Yucatan Peninsula in the southern Gulf of Mexico and is expected to weaken in the coming days. The Sunday morning forecast discussion from NOAA notes, “Now that Gamma is back out over open water, some slight re-strengthening is expected today. However, strong southerly vertical wind shear is forecast to increase across the cyclone by tonight and especially on Monday, and continue for the next few days.”

Of greater interest to the United States is a tropical wave (Invest 92L) in the central Caribbean Sea southeast of Jamaica. Forecasters gives this system a 70% (80%) chance of further development within 48 hours (5 days). According to the National Hurricane Center, this system “should move west-northwestward at 10 to 15 mph across the central and western Caribbean Sea today through Tuesday, and then move into the southern or southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday night and Wednesday.” If the system is named, it would be Tropical Storm Delta. Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach