The latest efforts to combat outbreaks of COVID-19 in Washington state is focused on colleges and universities, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced a number of requirements and restrictions intended to stop the spread following a rash of outbreaks linked to events tied to the return of students for the fall semester.
During a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 20, Inslee announced new requirements for college campuses based on a significant increase in COVID-19 infections around “congregate living quarters” and social gatherings, particularly around fraternities and sororities, he said. The governor said colleges had been linked to 35 outbreaks with more than 800 cases directly attributable to congregate living and social gatherings on campus.
The new rules include a requirement for masks at all times in living areas on campus except for outside or in sleeping areas, with no more than two residents allowed to share the same sleeping area. Visitations will be limited to no more than five people outside the household, and common areas can contain no more than five people in them at any given time.
Regarding the common area restriction, the governor gave the example of the upcoming Apple Cup between the University and Washington and Washington State University, scheduled for Nov. 27, as a situation that could be a chance for the spread of COVID-19.
“Those are the settings where transmissions are occurring,” Inslee said.
The new rules also require that colleges provide isolation and quarantine facilities for fraternities, sororities and other group housing close to campus, for dormitories and for personnel without other housing options. Inslee said students could be charged for those accomodations on a “sliding scale.”
Colleges without residential facilities still need to have plans for isolation and quarantine of their students, Inslee said, working with local health authorities to address students who will not be able to regularly quarantine by their own means.
“We have certainly learned some lessons,” Inslee said about the return of students back to college campuses across the state. He said the new safety measures were introduced so instruction can continue safely.
“We need to make sure that all of our bright, young, promising students do their part to keep themselves healthy and everyone around them,” Inslee remarked.
Inslee said the extra precautions on campuses are indicative of increasing COVID-19 activity statewide and nationwide, which in part is due to fall bringing people back inside with less-favorable weather. He reiterated the need for individuals to adhere to guidelines, noting the efforts and compliance made by businesses to stop the disease’s spread.
“We have knocked down this infection big-time,” Inslee said. Still there is work to be done, as he said that the state is averaging about 100 new cases per 100,000 of population in the past two weeks, four times higher than the state’s goal.
Inslee noted the relatively safe feeling residents might have in their own homes or among close friends and family.
“But what we are finding is people, even when they go into small groups and spend time with people in close proximity without masks, we end up having increased COVID transmission,” Inslee added. He pointed to the use of technology to continue gatherings remotely, acknowledging that nearly seven months since the initial “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order the state has a collective fatigue over adhering to restrictions.
“We’re all tired of this virus. This virus is not tired of us,” Inslee said.
Though colleges have new requirements, Inslee said there were no additional restrictions being considered at the moment statewide, nor enforcement of current masking mandates given the voluntary compliance seen, though should positive results not be seen that could change, he said.
“We have numerous enforcement tools should they become necessary,” Inslee said about the newest requirements.
Regarding other potential instances for COVID-19 outbreaks, Inslee said he was not aware of a specific “superspreader” event occurring at any outdoor political rally, though he did not rule the possibility out. He did not entertain the idea of preventing events like college sports from occurring as a potential way for stopping the chance for COVID-19 spread for those thinking to gather in person to watch games.
“It’s not what you’re doing at the event, it’s where you’re sitting at the event,” Inslee said.