Initial COVID-19 testing numbers at KU reflect low percentage of positives, but high concentration in sororities, fraternities

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

The Integrated Science Building in the Central District of the University of Kansas is pictured on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

The first COVID-19 testing results for around 7,800 people returning to the University of Kansas campus show roughly 90 positive cases of the respiratory virus, the Journal-World learned Wednesday evening.

Of those 90 positives, 87 came from students who have returned thus far — for a positive rate of only 1.7%.

However, there was one aspect of the initial results that caught the eye of university leaders and resulted in a late-night Zoom conference call: 70% of the student positive cases came from members of fraternities and sororities.

A source provided the Journal-World with access to comments made Wednesday night by KU Chancellor Douglas Girod, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Tammara Durham and Sorority and Fraternity Life Director Ethan Stubbs, among others, that detailed for the first time data from KU’s virus testing program to chapter presidents of greek life organizations at KU.

Of the roughly 7,800 people tested thus far, 5,116 have been students — producing 87 positive results — according to Chris Wilson, the vice president of system integration and innovation at the KU Health System, who has worked closely with the university on the testing program.

Seventy percent of positive test results would put the number of COVID-19-positive students in KU sororities and fraternities at roughly 61.

Girod was clear with those at the meeting that the numbers of positive cases weren’t a surprise to the university — in fact, it was perhaps to be expected given how many students are returning to Kansas from other parts of the country.

The purpose of the meeting, Girod said, was simply to “get ahead of this” and to offer fraternities and sororities some official recommendations for how to proceed.

Stubbs, who was named to the role almost exactly one month ago, handed down five policy recommendations during the meeting:

• Bid day, a sorority tradition where new members accept invitations to their new houses, will now be entirely virtual.

• No guests who don’t live in the houses are allowed to visit them for at least two weeks.

• Social gatherings both at recognized houses and houses off campus typically occupied by juniors and seniors will be extremely limited.

• Campus chapters with concentrations of positive test results will be re-tested beginning Friday.

• Houses are expected to submit isolation and quarantine plans to Stubbs’ office by Friday.

Wilson added during the meeting that it is best practice for greek life members to tell their houses if they test positive for COVID-19 to speed up the contact tracing process.

The Journal-World attempted to reach KU officials for comment Wednesday evening by email and text message but did not immediately hear back.

Officials told the Journal-World on Tuesday that they would soon make data from the initial testing results public but did not clarify when. It was also not clear from Wednesday’s meeting when the university planned to publicize the results delivered to greek life members.

KU’s fall semester begins Monday.

Contact Conner Mitchell

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