COVID-19 flare-ups on college campuses across the nation are disrupting the start of fall term, but in Washington — where most colleges are on the quarter system and don’t start classes until late September — the quads are largely empty, and cases have been few and far between.

Four of Washington’s five public universities and one college, The Evergreen State College, are all planning to teach remotely this fall. Many are keeping dorms open for students who need to live on campus, but university presidents have encouraged students to say home, if they can, and study from there.

A month after an outbreak of at least 154 COVID-19 cases at the University of Washington’s Greek Row, the state’s flagship school is experiencing just a handful of cases — one every day or so.

After the Greek Row outbreak, the fraternity houses started following guidelines created by Public Health – Seattle & King County that were specific to their living environments. It’s been several weeks since any new positive cases were recorded on Greek Row, said UW spokesperson Michelle Ma.

Elsewhere on campus since the beginning of this month, 16 students, faculty or staff have reported they are positive for the virus. The numbers include two students who were last on campus Aug. 12, and who tested positive Aug. 14. One had virus symptoms, one was asymptomatic. On Monday, the university reported that an employee who works remotely and hasn’t been on campus since last year tested positive for the virus.

The UW’s three campuses — Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma — are planning to teach more than 90% of classes online this fall. The few exceptions are graduate-level classes in public health and medicine, which cannot be taught remotely. The UW is planning to send two cloth masks, with the W logo, to every UW student with a U.S. address, Ma said.


At Washington State University’s Pullman campus, there have been 43 cases among faculty, staff and students, said Phil Weiler, vice president for marketing and communications. Weiler did not have any additional details about the cases, which are being handled by the county public health department. WSU will begin the fall semester remotely on Monday.

Central Washington University, in Ellensburg, is the only state university planning a hybrid model, with classes offered both in-person and online. The approach “invites but does not require students to be in residence,” according to the CWU website. Ellensburg is in Kittitas County, which has had a relatively low number of cases and is in Phase 3 of the state’s four-phase opening plan. It plans to start early, on Sept. 9, and end the quarter before Thanksgiving.

Two private universities in Spokane — Gonzaga University and Whitworth University — are planning to go back in-person, but students won’t arrive on campus until later this month. Both schools say they have invested in COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and other measures. County health officials say it’s inevitable that some students will become infected. Spokane is currently in Phase 2.

This week, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which started with in-person learning in mid-August, abruptly called off face-to-face classes after four clusters of outbreaks of COVID-19 and a soaring positivity rate. That incident has served as a wake-up call to colleges and universities across the nation.