Health officials have noticed a “substantial increase” in coronavirus cases among Washington State University students living off campus in Pullman, according to university officials.
On Saturday, Whitman County Public Health announced 30 new COVID-19 cases, all among people between the ages of 20 and 39, one of whom lived in a house on Greek Row. The majority of the cases were among WSU students, and many were traced back to gatherings around Greek Row, said university spokesperson Phil Weiler.
WSU decided in July to hold classes virtually, with fall semester starting Monday, but some students have returned to Pullman, primarily to live off campus. Pullman police Chief Gary Jenkins said officers have responded to a dozen complaints about parties violating health directives in the College Hill area in the past two weeks, including one that had more than 50 attendees. Jenkins expects the problem to worsen as more students return.
“We are very displeased and disappointed that students were not following the state guidelines to stay safe and healthy,” Weiler said.
Andrew Thomas, spokesperson for WSU’s Interfraternity Council, said he doesn’t think Greek life students are solely responsible for recent cases, as students outside the system live in the College Hill area as well.
“Yes, there are Greek students who are not doing what they should be doing,” Thomas said. “It’s part of this, but it’s not the whole … I think College Hill in general needs to do a better job.”
The university warned that students who did not follow the rules could be subject to law enforcement action and university disciplinary proceedings. Jenkins announced this week that his department would enforce health measures, with the possibility of fines for those holding parties or failing to disperse.
“We would be negligent by allowing these parties to continue,” he said in a statement. “With respect to enforcement, we will consider the circumstances of each situation. Continually educating and warning the same individuals will not be effective to achieve compliance.”
Officers will not patrol looking for individual violations, and Jenkins said he “would be very surprised” if anyone were cited for not wearing a mask, as officers will provide ample education opportunities. The department’s focus is on parties and gatherings, he said.
Farrin Johnson, spokesperson for the university’s Panhellenic Association, said social events are still prohibited, although amnesty is given in most cases if members come forward to report symptoms or test results after breaking the rules.
“We want people to seek out testing and resources,” Johnson said. “We don’t want them to hide it.”
WSU said Tuesday that there have been 43 cases among faculty, staff and students. The cases announced Saturday are separate from those 43 cases, Weiler said, although he did not have a new total to provide.
Earlier this summer, more than 150 University of Washington students tested positive in connection with an outbreak on its Greek Row.