Within two weeks of the return of Mississippi State University students to campus, six MSU Greek houses have been required to quarantine due to COVID-19 outbreaks in their chapters.
A student in one of the affected organizations confirmed, as of last week, two houses, Phi Mu and Fiji, were in quarantine. Phi Mu's quarantine is set to be up Sept. 4, and Fiji's is set to be up Sept. 3, the student source said. However, according to Regina Hyatt, the vice president for student affairs, four more Greek houses have followed suit, experiencing similar outbreaks either in their house or on their residence hall floors. These organizations include Kappa Delta, Chi Omega, Tri Delta and Pi Kappa Alpha, student sources confirmed.
According to MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter, the Mississippi State Department of Health defines an outbreak as three cases or more. At that point, members of the organization are required to isolate for 14 days, either at their permanent residence or in an MSU quarantine facility. The two hotels under contract with the university to provide quarantine space for affected students are The Hampton Inn and the Comfort Suites.
"The university has spent 1.2 million of the CARES Act fund to make sure we had sufficient isolation and quarantine bed spaces for our students," Salter said.
Jacqueline Mullen, the director of student activities and fraternity/sorority life for MSU, said she did not know any specifics of how outbreaks occurred within the first two Greek organizations required to quarantine.
"We don't know if the student came in contact with someone from the house; we don't know if the student came in contact with someone outside of the house. There could be various reasons of how they came in contact with someone," Mullen said.
Mullen said she has been overall impressed with how the MSU Greek organizations have been handling themselves throughout the pandemic.
"I'll be honest, I've been very, very pleased with our chapters, and I wouldn't say it if I didn't see it on the frontlines," Mullen said.
Panhellenic Executive Council President Katey Koon, a senior educational psychology major, said she also was very pleased with all the hard work chapter leaders have put into enforcing COVID regulations.
"They're like sponges. They're taking in every piece of advice they can from the dean of students, from Jackie (Mullen), from me, and so, I think that's been really encouraging for me. They want to know the rules, so they can enforce them," Koon said.
Mullen said the various chapters have taken extensive measures to ensure a safe and healthy return to campus for their members, including consulting cleaning companies on the most effective chemicals to use to disinfect common spaces, setting capacity limits for rooms within the houses, hiring additional cleaning crews, implementing a grab-and-go dining system and setting rules for guests within the houses.
While Salter did not say either of the first two chapters in isolation had violated university COVID-19 rules, he did say he expected heavier enforcement from the university of their health guidelines.
"I think moving forward you will see the university take a harder line on activities that our policies have said are against the public health interest of the university right now," Salter said.
Salter said he believes students are doing well with masking and social distancing on campus, but he is concerned about what goes on off-campus.
"The problem is coming when they hit town and the bars and all that, and so, we're trying to reiterate the message that slowing the spread is sort of a 24/7, 365 exercise. Big parties, long periods of exposure in close proximity, not distanced, with no mask- that's a recipe for disaster," Salter said.
Koon said she believes Greek life should not bear the brunt of the blame for off-campus gatherings contributing to the spread of the virus.
"I think Greek life is an easy target- 'they're the culprits of the off-campus events.' But it's every student right now," Koon said. "We all want to be back in Starkville. We all want to be with each other, but I think one of the positives of Greek life is when people do have that attitude they have this accountability, this community to say 'no, you're held to a higher standard. There will be consequences, not only with the university but with your chapter if you break one of these laws.'"
While Panhellenic has always been enforcing all of the governors' orders and will continue to do so, Koon said, the outbreaks have been a wake-up call for the MSU Greek organizations and their leaders.
"I think unfortunately it sometimes takes an example of what not to do to realize how serious it is. So I do think since then and since we've had a few different hiccups like I said, I think it's time for our presidents and our leaders to say 'we need to do more,'" Koon said.