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Washington state issues more COVID restrictions for colleges

October 21, 2020 GMT

SEATTLE (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.

“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.

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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. The university has said they aren’t aware of any students who have been hospitalized in connection with the virus. The school has said it was asking those with the virus to isolate in their current residences.

University of Washington spokesman Victor Balta said Tuesday evening the proclamation’s provision regarding providing isolation and quarantine housing and support is in line with what the university has made available to students.

“Contact tracing within the Greek community living off campus is conducted by Public Health – Seattle & King County, and students are asked about their ability to isolate and quarantine safely,” Balta said in an email. “Through this and other communication we have had with the Greek community, we have not heard significant demand for isolation and quarantine spaces. But, again, those spaces are available if needed.”

The number of new cases associated with the outbreak has slowed in recent days, a trend officials hope will continue, Balta added.

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.

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Follow Sally Ho on Twitter at http://twitter.com/_sallyho