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9 UW-Madison Fraternities and Sororities Told To Quarantine After COVID-19 Positives

Students Violating Quarantine Orders Could Be Placed In 'Involuntary' Quarantine, Face $10,000 Fine

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Phil Roeder (CC-BY)

Members of nine University of Wisconsin-Madison fraternities and sororities have been told to quarantine themselves for two weeks after 38 students tested positive for COVID-19. If members violate the quarantine order they could face involuntary quarantine and fines of up to $10,000.

A UW-Madison press release sent Friday afternoon said members of greek life organizations who have tested positive must isolate themselves for other students for 14 days. The university is not naming the nine fraternities and sororities that have had members test positive but said the chapters have a total 420 members who must all be tested on Tuesday Sept. 8, which means 9 percent of the chapters’ membership has tested positive for COVID-19.

As a precaution, the university is requiring all other members of the other 38 greek life chapters living in fraternity or sorority housing to be tested or provide proof they have tested negative for the virus within the past 90 days.

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“Our goal is to stop any further spread of the virus among our students and the broader community,” said Jake Baggott, executive director of University Health Services in a campus press release. “We’re working closely with county health officials, student leaders, chapter advisors, and the housing corporations that own the chapter houses to address this quickly and thoroughly.”

In a follow-up interview with WPR, Baggott said UW-Madison anticipated there would be positive cases once the campus began mandatory COVID-19 testing of students in campus residence halls. In addition, the university is offering free tests to anyone on campus and is conducting voluntary surveillance testing of groups living off campus. Baggot didn’t say what type of testing strategy identified the positives in the fraternities and sororities but he said the campus response is an example of their efforts to use isolation and quarantine to stop outbreaks from spreading.

“I think this is probably the first example of this where we recognize this is an area that we can take some steps to mitigate that, which is really what we’re hoping to accomplish,” Baggott said. “Most of the other results are things that we anticipated getting at this point.

Students caught violating quarantine and isolation orders could be ordered into involuntary quarantine and face fines of up to $10,000, according to the local health department. The university is also threatening sanctions against students who violate a quarantine directive. UW-Madison has previously said those sanctions could include emergency suspension.

When asked how UW-Madison will enforce mandatory quarantine or isolation off campus, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor referred to a campus incident reporting system where students or employees can notify the university about large gatherings or other violations of campus health rules.

“But … I still want to believe that our students are trying to do the right thing and trying to keep everybody safe,” said Reesor.

The university press release noted that living in sororities and fraternities poses a “greater opportunity for COVID-19 transmission” due to communal bathroom and dining facilities. The Wisconsin State Journal has reported that two warning letters from the PHMDC have been sent to the Sigma Chi and Theta Chi fraternities for hosting social gatherings.

Mathew Mitnick is the chair of the Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison’s student government association. He said with hundreds of positive cases of COVID-19 reported on campus within the first week of classes he expects the university will have to move all classes online sooner than later.

“I think the expectation among students and from what we’ve been hearing is everybody thinks, give it another couple weeks and we will be completely online,” Mitnick said.

On Friday afternoon, ASM released a statement in support of moving nearly all classes online to protect the health and safety of students and employees.