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.