Off-campus parties at two of Oregon’s biggest universities, Oregon State University and University of Oregon, are causing an increase in the spread of COVID. Public health officials warn at least one community to cease going to all social gatherings in order to slow the spread.
On Friday, State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said officials have discovered outbreaks connected to three Greek life parties, an off-campus party, and three athletic team gatherings at OSU and UO.
An official later confirmed that 22 cases were linked to UO and 13 linked to OSU, OregonLive reports.
Both universities are teaching the majority of classes remotely, but some students have chosen to live on or close to campus in Corvallis or Eugene. Wednesday marked the beginning of classes for OSU and UO is set to start next week.
Both universities have rules in the student code of conduct forbidding gatherings of over 10 people on or off-campus as well as requiring the observance of state laws regarding masks inside public spaces or when six feet of distance cannot be maintained outdoors. OSU and UO also have reporting forums online where the public can report student code of conduct violations.
Sidelinger said that college cases were just part of the other types of gatherings that are facilitating the increase of COVID in Oregon. 457 new cases were announced on Friday, an all-time high for Oregon. The average amount of cases daily is the highest it’s been for a month.
Oregon public health officials offered conflicting opinions on their concern level. Patrick Allen, the Director of Oregon Health Authority, advised people to think about how to do social gatherings safely, rather than outright discouraging them. A spokesperson for Lane County Public Health, Jason Davis, asked everyone to avoid gatherings outside of members of their household because of the surge of cases in their county; this week, Lane county raised its COVID alert to “high.”
Benton County has not experienced the same spike as Lane County. Steve Clark, OSU’s spokesman, did not agree with Sidelinger referring to the off-campus cases as “outbreaks.” Clark said two infections were the result of a fraternity event, but he does not consider the number of infections an outbreak.
He added he believed that the five cases among three sports teams were spread because the athletes lived or trained together, not due to social gatherings.
However, Clark said the university thinks every case is serious and has a large number of measures in place to slow the spread among those connected to the university. He also said the fraternity event is being investigated.
UO has been significantly more impacted.
Davis said Lane County public health has linked seven outbreaks to UO students, as well as students from other colleges and people 18-28 not currently enrolled. UO reports that last week 37 off-campus students tested positive, more than the 22 Sidelinger identified at the conference.
Lane County has reported record highs of new COVID cases on three separate days last week, and Davis said young adults were a major factor in this.
Colleges and Universities are struggling to keep students socially distant on a national level. The University of New Hampshire saw 11 cases due to a fraternity party of over 100 people and Ohio State University temporarily suspended over 225 students for off campus gatherings before classes started.
By Hannah Ramsey