Governor Issues New COVID Restrictions For Washington Colleges; More Deaths In Whitman County

Photo of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Washington State University in Pullman
File photo of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Washington State University in Pullman. Greek houses and other communal living areas at regional colleges and universities have been the source of some coronavirus cases spikes on campuses in the Northwest. CREDIT: Scott Leadingham/NWPB

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BY SALLY HO / AP

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee will now require colleges and universities to provide quarantine facilities for all students if they are exposed to COVID-19.

The governor on Tuesday issued more restrictions for higher education campuses as the University of Washington struggles to contain an outbreak among its fraternities and sororities. There have been outbreaks in Whitman County, home of Washington State University, as well. 

(NWPB Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, Oct. 20, Whitman County announced three additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the county’s total deaths to seven since the pandemic began. All have come in October.)

“We do have fair expectations that students will step up to the plate and take some responsibility for this,” Inslee said.

Also Tuesday, state health officials warned of a “fall surge” in coronavirus infections, noting that western Washington counties are hitting near or above previous peaks in the rate of infections.

ALSO SEE: WSU President Kirk Schulz ‘Really Concerned” Over Campus COVID Spike

The new higher education guidelines now require the colleges to provide isolation and quarantine facilities for Greek system houses, communal off-campus homes, and students and workers who live on campus if they don’t have a place to go.

Colleges without dorms or residential facilities must create a plan on how to address student and staff needs for isolation and quarantine in the event that they are exposed.

The University of Washington has been trying to manage a coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks since students returned for the new school year. As of Monday, at least 295 positive cases have been linked to 18 sororities and fraternities in the 45-chapter system, which is north of the university campus in Seattle. None have been hospitalized.

The University of Washington couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the new restrictions. The school has so far asked the Greek members to isolate in their current residences.

Inslee said the schools can charge students on a sliding scale to offset the costs of housing them during a quarantine, though it’s unclear how it would work for employees who are infected while living on campus as part of their employment.

Inslee said there’s been 35 outbreaks at colleges and universities statewide, totaling more than 800 cases that have been directly attributed to such communal living and social gathering situations.

Last June, a different outbreak infected 154 students in 15 fraternity houses at the same University of Washington campus. There was also a COVID outbreak in late August that was tied to Washington State University in Pullman as students returned for the start of the school year.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press

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