Douglas County health officials issuing quarantine orders to 10 Greek houses at KU

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health officials issues a quarantine order Wednesday for nine fraternities and sororities at the University of Kansas to deter the spread of COVID-19. The university began fall semester classes Monday and more than 200 students, faculty and staff have tested positive. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health officials issues a quarantine order Wednesday for nine fraternities and sororities at the University of Kansas to deter the spread of COVID-19. The university began fall semester classes Monday and more than 200 students, faculty and staff have tested positive. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — Officials at Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health moved Wednesday to issue quarantine orders to 10 fraternities and sororities at the University of Kansas in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, and the university’s chancellor says more such notices are expected in the future.

Action by county health officials was in response to escalation of positive coronavirus tests administered to students, faculty and staff at the university in conjunction with start of fall semester classes Monday. The majority of positive cases among students live in the vast Greek housing system at KU.

County disease investigators have been working to identify close contacts of positive cases and isolate those people from the community.

“This is one of the most effective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Thomas Marcellino, the county’s health officer. “Even if you are asymptomatic, it is important to comply with this directive, especially to protect those in our community who are at high risk.”

This county orders for a 14-day quarantine applied to five fraternities and five sororities. Chapter houses on the list: Pi Kappa Phi, Phi Gamma Delta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Phi Kappa Psi, Gamma Phi Beta, Delta Delta Delta, Alpha Chi Omega, Sigma Nu, Kappa Alpha Theta and Beta Theta Pi.

“In cases where contacts are identified in Greek chapter houses, we consider them as living in a household. And, household members are considered high risk,” Marcellino said.

On Sunday, KU chancellor Doug Girod said a cease-and-desist order had been issued by the university to fraternities Kappa Sigma and Phi Kappa Psi. The university’s directive amounted to a 14-day public “health ban” applicable to all members of these fraternities for engaging in irresponsible behavior.

On Wednesday, he applauded the Greek community for participating in the university’s testing program.

“Our situation is fluid and can change rapidly,” the chancellor said. “We anticipate additional county-issued quarantine orders will continue to impact the KU community in the days ahead.”

He said KU enacted mandatory testing to identify positive cases early and ensure people isolate appropriately. Testing also will establish baseline positivity rates among campus populations to determine appropriate interventions, he said.

Quarantine orders from the county apply to individuals living at the houses deemed to be close contacts of someone testing positive. A close contact refers to people who spent more than 10 minutes within six feet of a person who tested positive.

Individuals assigned to quarantine could serve that time at their permanent residence, but any requirement to do this would be an individual’s or chapter’s decision and not part of a public health mandate.

“Based on the 14-day incubation period of the virus, it is most productive to serve the quarantine instead of chasing a negative test through Watkins Health Services,” said Dan Patridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. “If you are feeling symptomatic during quarantine, contact your health care provider to be screened for a test.”

The most recent testing statistics from KU indicated 222 people were positive among 19,400 assess for a positivity rate of 1.1%. As of Tuesday, the rate among members of Greek sororities and fraternities was 5.4%. The university is expected to update its testing statistics on Friday.

KU and public health officials met with Greek community members Wednesday to explain the quarantine process.