UW-Madison students work through fraternity, sorority quarantine

“It’s hard, kind of feeling like you’re on house arrest almost." One fraternity president says his members are doing their best to follow guidelines.
Published: Sep. 13, 2020 at 9:22 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Fraternities, sororities and residence halls are still under quarantine as UW-Madison grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

In the first two weeks since students began returning to campus, over 800 students and staff tested positive, making up 65 percent of Dane County’s positive cases. The steady increase peaked on Sept. 9, with a record-breaking 487 people testing positive in 24 hours.

As part of their response, the university ordered nine fraternity and sorority chapters to quarantine on Sept. 4. One week later, the university added 13 more chapters to that list.

One of those chapters was Phi Delta Theta. Fraternity president Ellis Becker said members were already anxious coming back to school, and the fraternity did their best to follow public health guidelines.

“In all common areas, we require social distancing and everyone has to be wearing a mask,” Becker explained. He added the fraternity set up hand sanitizing stations at entrances and limited occupancy in rooms and common areas.

Still, less than two weeks after classes started, the fraternity was already seeing a handful of positive COVID-19 cases. Becker said those members have recovered and are no longer symptomatic, but Phi Delta Theta is one of the 22 Greek chapters ordered to quarantine.

“It’s hard kind of feeling like you’re on house arrest, almost,” Becker described.

Local parents and alumni are trying their best to offer support.

“It’s tough when you got 24 guys stuck in a house and they can’t leave,” said Adam Warriner, Phi Delta Theta Wisconsin province president and Phi Delta Theta alum.

Over the weekend, parents and alumni helped deliver meals to the fraternity after finding out meal plans only lasted Monday through Friday.

“We need to keep these guys fed, keep their spirits high, keep their morale high as they finish out their quarantine,” Warriner explained.

Becker is grateful for the support, saying, “It shows us that we’re not alone.”

While the quarantine is a tough situation, Becker said he agrees with the order, but worries the university reacted too late.

“I think they started to react and really look at the data as it became much too apparent. At that point it was kind of like them trying to put in, implement extreme measures,” he said.

Now, Becker and his fraternity brothers are waiting to see what happens next, as the future of the semester is still uncertain.

“We’re just trying to stay as safe as possible, really and just keep morale up again and just try to work through it together,” Becker explained.

As of Sunday morning, 314 students were in on-campus isolation and 119 were in Housing quarantine. Those numbers are in addition to students quarantined in fraternity and sorority houses, as well as Sellery and WItte residence halls.

Amid the surge of cases on campus, NBC15 checked in with UW Health to see if hospital capacity has become a concern.

UW Health told NBC15 they have plenty of space to take care of patients who need to be hospitalized, and so far, the surge in cases has not led to more hospitalizations. However, doctors warn, community spread can still impact their ability to handle the pandemic.

“Our employees, they live and work in the community and of course, as cases spread within the community, they also spread among those people that are needed for the healthcare worker workforce, so that piece I think is concerning to everyone,” said Nasia Safdar, UW Health’s Medical Director for Infection Control and Prevention.

Safdar said the new measures UW-Madison has implemented should help, but it will take time to find out whether those steps are enough to return to in-person instruction.

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