As many college students return to campus for their spring term, some Washington schools are reporting another surge in COVID-19 cases, and are urging their communities to stay vigilant.
University of Washington officials are seeing an expected increase in infections among students, university spokesperson Victor Balta said Tuesday morning. The students who have tested positive are pointing to recent travel, visiting restaurants or seeing friends and family, rather than attending any particular event or activity, Balta said.
According to the UW’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard, 48 cases have been reported in the last 10 days, all affecting students enrolled at the university’s Seattle campus. The recent tallies have pushed the Husky Coronavirus Testing Program’s infection rate to 1.3% in the last seven days, more than doubling the program’s cumulative infection rate of 0.6%.
The program, which has completed 2,388 tests in the last week, is powered by the Seattle Flu Study and began in September.
Balta said the cases don’t appear to have been transmitted on campus, and that the majority of students live off-campus and are taking classes remotely.
Western Washington University in Bellingham has reported 30 positive COVID-19 cases involving students living in residence halls in the past week, The Associated Press said Monday.
Further contact tracing is needed to determine the cause for the increases, the school said. According to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard, Western Washington had 49 positive results in 13,291 tests — up from the 38 positive results in 13,749 tests during the fall quarter.
At Washington State University, school administrators said last week that student gatherings and parties that ignored basic safety and health protocols have directly resulted in an increase in COVID-19 cases, according to the AP. Whitman County Public Health reported 73 infections — all in people younger than 40 — in the county over the weekend, bringing the county’s total to 3,852.
“Our numbers are alarmingly high,” WSU officials said in a letter Friday. “This is unacceptable. We are potentially putting our community and vulnerable populations at an increased risk.”
The statement indicated that poor decisions, including those made by students, could cause Whitman County to go back to Phase 2 or 1 of its reopening plan.
Also Friday, Whitman County Public Health encouraged county residents to avoid social gatherings and other situations that would increase their risk of exposure to COVID-19. The agency cited the recent increases in local COVID-19 activity.
It’s the most recent surge in cases at the state’s colleges and universities.
In October, Gov. Jay Inslee created new restrictions that limited indoor gatherings for students, specifically directed at outbreaks at higher education institutions, including at the UW’s Greek Row. At the time, Inslee said there had been 35 outbreaks at Washington’s colleges, with more than 800 cases tied to social gatherings or student living spaces.
Throughout the country, some universities are planning to push students to get vaccinated as states expand eligibility requirements, hoping to make campuses safer by the fall. In Washington, students largely aren’t eligible for vaccines yet, though people 16 and older will be eligible for a shot by May 1, state officials confirmed last week.
In Texas, people over the age of 16 started getting vaccinated this week — and officials at the University of Texas in Austin have told students who want to receive their vaccines through the school to register online so they can begin to schedule appointments. Rutgers University in New Jersey has decided vaccines can be mandated, and is now requiring students who plan to attend the fall semester in person to be fully vaccinated, with exceptions for those with medical or religious excuses.
Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post was used in this story.