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Interfraternity Council of UW says more than 140 residents are positive for COVID-19

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo

The Interfraternity Council at the University of Washington said as of Monday, 146 people living in fraternities have tested positive for COVID-19.

The university conducts its own testing and verification of cases and said “at least 128 fraternity house residents” had tested positive, and another nine UW students who were close contacts of the residents had tested positive.

The outbreak at fraternities, which are not part of campus housing and are owned by private organizations, has drawn national attention. That’s in large part because universities are trying to figure out how to safely reopen their campuses this fall.

Erik Johnson, a senior at the University of Washington and president of the Interfraternity Council, said 15 out of 25 fraternities have cases of coronavirus. But he said it doesn’t seem that the cases stem from one big party or event and the fraternities already had taken precautions, including more frequent cleaning and not allowing guests. The facilities are only about half full right now, with about 1,100 residents. Some women who normally reside in sororities are living in the fraternities for the summer while they work or take classes.

“For good or for worse, this situation in our Greek community has really served as a wakeup call for a lot of students to hear that this is something that’s much closer to home than we thought,” Johnson said. “We are not invincible. It can get in, even if we put in these precautions ahead of time.”

Johnson said so far most people who tested positive are showing no symptoms or mild ones and he doesn’t know of anyone who has been hospitalized. He said the fraternities are taking care to keep people who tested positive separate from everyone else.

“So whether that’s them being on a different floor all together so those facilities are just for them or scheduling times the facilities can be used and then disinfecting them between use, a variety of factors have been implemented,” he said. “It just really depends on a chapter-by-chapter basis.”

Johnson said the fraternities also are making sure that people wear masks as much as possible. 

Other universities are paying close attention to the UW outbreak. Washington State University is planning to reopen with a hybrid model of some in-person and some online classes, and the university plans to only fill about half of its residential housing in Pullman.

“If a room typically housed two people, we’re going to put one person in that room,” said Phil Weiler, WSU vice president for marketing and communications. “We have a handful of residence hall rooms that were built for three. We might put two in those if there are two people who really want to live together, for one reason or another. We can accommodate that assuming that they understand the risks of that congregate kind of housing situation.”

Weiler said the university’s housing division will face about $20 million in lost revenue because of the reduced occupancy. That comes after taking about a $10 million hit this past semester. WSU allowed students to cancel housing contracts after the shift to distance learning. But Weiler said that may not be financially feasible if the university has to switch to remote instruction again.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.