OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced a host of new restrictions, including limits on indoor gatherings for students, at institutions of higher education that are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The announcement comes as outbreaks of the novel coronavirus have continued around college campuses, including at the University of Washington’s Greek Row.
At a news conference, Inslee said there have been 35 outbreaks at Washington’s universities and colleges, with more than 800 cases tied to social gatherings or student living spaces.
“We still believe that education can go forward safely, but that is only if we have some additional safety measures to protect not only students but the larger community and their families from this pandemic,” he said.
Under the new restrictions, colleges have to provide quarantine and isolation facilities for students living in dorms, Greek system houses, off-campus congregate houses and any personnel who don’t have somewhere to go.
Only one visitor will be allowed in a dorm room or sleeping room, and any visitor must wear facial coverings and keep a physical distance.
Facial coverings will also be required when students are outside of their sleeping rooms, such as in the common areas of houses and dorms. And no more than two people will be allowed to sleep in a room.
Additionally, only five people can be in one place at a time. For instance, a group of students watching the Apple Cup cannot be larger than five, and they must wear facial coverings and keep a 6-foot distance from each other.
“When we do watch the Apple Cup, we just need to socially distance, we need to wear masks, even with our good friends,” said the governor. “Because those are the settings that transmissions are occurring.”
Meanwhile, higher-education institutions that don’t have residential facilities must come up with a plan in conjunction with their local health district to make sure their students or staff have places to isolate or quarantine.
University of Washington currently has about 10 confirmed cases of the virus that are unrelated to the outbreaks at Greek Row, spokesperson Victor Balta wrote in an email.
“As for the residence halls, I can tell you that we have been enforcing our campus policy on face coverings in the residence halls since the beginning of the quarter and we have not seen any significant issues in that regard,” wrote Balta.
COVID-19 cases are trending upward around the nation and in Washington. There were 99,150 cases in Washington with 2,282 deaths as of Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, a state Department of Health news release stated that “case numbers in western Washington counties are climbing at an alarming rate, near or beyond previous peaks in some areas.”
“As cases in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties continue to trend sharply upward, health officials warn we may now be entering the fall surge,” the news release continued.
Inslee, however, said there are no plans now to reimpose broader restrictions seen earlier in the pandemic.
“But this is an iterative process, we have to adapt,” he said. “We look at the numbers every single day. And we’re going to make the best decisions we can.”