Story at a glance
- Indiana University is the most recent school observing COVID-19 outbreaks among its student body.
- Officials blame Greek life and other communal housing.
Indiana University (IU) at Bloomington officials are asking students to seriously evaluate whether they want to continue living in communal housing environments as more COVID-19 infections are emerging among the student body, particularly within the school’s Greek system.
The school announced that positivity testing rates in certain Greek and communal student homes are now above 50 percent in what school public health experts are calling an “uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.”
About 2,600 Indiana University students live within Greek housing or other communal situations. Given the highly communicable nature of the virus, which travels mainly through aerosol particles, it renders the other 42,000 students at risk, as well as the 12,000 faculty and staff that work on the campus.
“Due to the nature of communal living (Greek housing), in which there is a high density of residents, shared bathrooms, and a number of common living, sleeping and dining spaces, viruses like COVID-19 easily spread,” the school wrote. “Greek houses at IU Bloomington are seeing this type of spread at quickly increasing rates.”
The Greek homes are owned and operated by the individual Greek systems, which means that they are privately owned and out of IU’s jurisdiction to shut down or close. The school noted that Greek organizations were ordered to develop plans to mitigate the spread of the virus upon students returning to campus, and stated that most of those plans “are proving to be ineffective” in preventing transmission.
The school also released a chart outlining which fraternities and sororities are currently under quarantine and how many cases have been reported so far.
“IU expects national Greek organizations and housing corporations to work directly with their students and families to make decisions in their best interest about their living environment and safely find alternate arrangements as needed,” the school said.
Colleges and universities nationwide have struggled to decide whether to reopen amid the pandemic, weighing the risk of an outbreak among vulnerable staff and students versus the fallout — both economically and for students — of not having students return to campus.
For schools that have opted to reopen, the experiment appears to be going poorly; the Universities of Iowa, South Carolina and Alabama all attempted reopenings but have since reported nearly a thousand cases of coronavirus each.
In response to emerging outbreaks on college campuses, Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force urged state governors to not send students home if they are diagnosed to prevent further virus spread. Instead, schools should have quarantine housing and medical support to help sick students recover.