KINGSTON, R.I.— A sorority house was put under quarantine on Sunday night at the University of Rhode Island, after three members tested positive for COVID-19, the school said.
It brings the number of quarantined Greek houses on campus to three. Last week, two members of another sorority and a member of a fraternity house tested positive.
In each case, the COVID-positive students were placed in isolation and other members of the houses were put in quarantine for 14 days, according to URI.
Students may quarantine at the sorority or fraternity houses in their rooms or go home, if it is safe to do so, according to the university. URI also is conducting contact tracing and has notified and is working with the Rhode Island Department of Health.
“The current COVID-19 cases are not a result of large social gatherings,” URI spokesman Dave Lavallee said. “Rather, these cases have arisen from small groups of students that have interacted, mostly off campus. Fortunately, URI students are adhering to the limitations of social gatherings and not gathering in groups larger than 15. We continue to educate our community about the importance of wearing masks and limiting the total number of people they interact with so as to avoid exposure to the virus.”
Between Sept. 14 and 21, the university administered 1,954 COVID tests, according to its online data tracker. Of those 61 positive cases were found, for a 3 percent positive test rate. The data represents all URI campuses.
The school reported 451 people in isolation or quarantine last week.
The tracker reports 15 students in isolation or quarantine on campus as of Sept. 21. That number represents 3 percent of available university quarantine beds.
The numbers bear watching, university officials said. But to date the school hasn’t seen a surge like the kind experienced at Providence College, where a reported 160 students have tested positive and the school has switched to complete remote learning. Providence College has scheduled large rounds of testing last week and this week.
Since Jan. 22, URI has recorded 90 positive cases out of 6,899 tests given, for a 1 percent positivity rate.
At this time, Greek housing remains open on campus with no plans to shut it, URI said.
Several weeks back, on Sept. 6, a large gathering of students took place in Kingston, and video of the incident surfaced. That led URI officials to increase campus police and staff patrols. URI administrators have accompanied campus police on ride-alongs on the weekends to help identify any large gatherings and disperse them regularly.
Students violating the prohibition on large gatherings, on or off campus, can face suspension or expulsion from the university.
In June, the university announced the need to reduce capacity from a planned 6,200 spaces to about 4,400 spaces for the fall because of COVID. URI contracted with three local hotels to house URI students for the upcoming fall semester as a result of the reduction in on-campus housing because of COVID-19.
Last month, South Kingstown announced it would fine anyone found hosting a get-together of more than 15 people $500. Attendees at such parties can be fined $250 in South Kingstown as well.
URI President David M. Dooley and Vice President Kathy M. Collins met with student renters in neighboring towns to remind them of URI’s code of student conduct, which includes an addendum for COVID-19 policies.
URI has also created a smartphone application called Rhody Connect, which is designed to educate the students on COVID-19, including required daily health assessments and health services contacts.
“The University has taken a number of steps to help protect the community and reduce any further virus transmission with our off-campus residents,” URI spokeswoman Linda Acciardo said.
“URI Health Services has daily testing available for all students, both symptomatic and anyone who wants a test. Students have barrier-free access to testing and are also being randomly selected to participate in our surveillance testing program.”
Students who test positive are moved to a contracted space to isolate them from the community as soon as possible and to help decrease any further risk to the community, Acciardo said. Students in quarantine are checked on routinely by Health Services, with education and reinforcement of the quarantine guidelines.
Lavallee said URI’s tracker records those who are in quarantine or isolation on campus or in one of the hotels URI contracted with for rooms. The positive cases that are recorded in the tracker are those individuals who have had testing through URI Health Services.
“We are expanding the tracker to include those in quarantine or isolation off campus, either at home or in surrounding hotel properties,” he said.
Two metrics the school watches closely are the positivity rate and the number of university isolation/quarantine beds in use. It’s also working to increase daily testing numbers.
“The goal of increased testing is to get a broader evaluation of the URI community that is more reflective of overall population health and not just of those who are symptomatic,” Lavallee said. “A majority of quarantine and isolation beds are available to support increased demand.”
When it’s not possible for students to quarantine or isolate at home, students with a housing contract can be moved into designated on-campus housing or the contracted off-campus housing.
Students living off-campus who are unable to go home stay in their rental or leased space off campus, depending on individual circumstances.
“University staff stay in close contact with those members of our community who are sick or in quarantine to ensure they are safe and properly cared for as they recover or complete their quarantine requirements,” Lavallee said.