USC fraternity row outbreak: 40 infected with Covid-19 even as universities plan to reopen in the fall

The incident comes after the virus caused similar breakouts across fraternity groups of other universities, raising questions on whether it is possible to keep campuses open and safe


                            USC fraternity row outbreak: 40 infected with Covid-19 even as universities plan to reopen in the fall
(Getty Images)

The coronavirus outbreak at University of Southern California's Greek Row has left at least 40 individuals infected. The incident comes after the virus caused similar breakouts across fraternity groups of other universities, raising questions on whether it is possible to keep campuses — both on and off — safe. 

"A significant number of the cases were associated with four fraternity houses," Chief student health officer Sarah Van Orman told LA Times. "To date, around 150 USC students and employees have tested positive," she added.

Many colleges across the US are planning to open their doors to students this fall. According to an analysis that looked at reopening plans for nearly 3,000 institutions, 21% of them offer courses primarily in person and 2.5% fully in person. Only 2.9% will go completely online, with no students on campus. 

Recently, an outbreak erupted at Univesity of Washington's (UW) Greek Row, where at least 147 students tested positive. Similar flare-ups have occurred in California and Mississippi too. According to a survey by The New York Times, about 6,600 coronavirus cases can be linked to 270 colleges. The actual figure could be much higher than reported, the Times added. Sports facilities are also at risk as more than 630 people — athletes, coaches, and other employees across 68 campuses — have contracted the virus.

According to a survey, only 2.9% of US Institutions will go completely online, with no students on campus (Getty Images)

USC's Van Orman said that the safety of students boils down to individual choices. She added that the Greek row outbreak occurred off-campus, where the university has no control. "Unless all of us understand that right now our only tools are physical distancing and wearing masks, we’re going to continue to have devastation, not only in terms of the economy, our learning, our academics, our jobs, but people dying,” she told LA Times. “Each of us has to decide what we stand for. Frats need to do that as well."

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), at least 153 people in the college community tested positive. The university urged students to follow social distancing. UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea told LA Times that universities can only provide recommendations for students living off-campus. "They have to make those decisions from there," he said. Students living in dorms face certain health restrictions imposed by the school, he added.

Others have also urged individuals to comply with safety measures to minimize risk. "What is occurring north of campus provides lessons for students as they consider their return to campus this fall. If everyone does their part to keep each other safe, we can continue to engage with one another and with our studies in the University environment by wearing face coverings and remaining physically distant," Dr Geoffrey Gottlieb, chair of the UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases, which is involved in the response to the outbreak.

"If we don’t, measures such as what is now required on Greek Row will be inevitable. My sense is all students want to return to some sense of normalcy, so I urge all of us to follow public health guidelines so we can do just that," he said in a statement.

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