The Monroe County Health Department approved an appeal from Theta Chi last week that allows more students to move back into the house, pushing its capacity above the standard 75% limit.
Monroe County Health Administrator Penny Caudill said Theta Chi will be granted 80% capacity because the house came off quarantine and new cases inside the house dropped.
“It’s now a time where we have to be a little more thoughtful and specific for each house,” Monroe County legal counsel Margie Rice said.
Monroe County created the 75% capacity limit during IU’s first week of classes but recommended houses stick to 50% capacity. The Health Department believed limiting the density of students in the house would decrease internal COVID-19 spread.
IU reported Theta Chi has had at least 38 COVID-19 cases since Aug. 19. Theta Chi members tested between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5 had a positivity rate of more than 76% — the third highest percentage of all greek houses that week.
Dr. Aaron Carroll, IU’s director of mitigation testing, has said in multiple webinars greek houses are not designed for living in a pandemic.
The appeals process was approved at an Oct. 8 Monroe County Health Board meeting. It allows houses to request higher live-in capacities now that many houses have had quarantines lifted. Only one house — Delta Phi Epsilon — is in quarantine as of Monday. Officials initially said it was unlikely any appeals would be granted.
The board only discussed creating an appeals process because a previously unnamed house requested last week more students move back in. Caudill confirmed Wednesday that Theta Chi made that request.
Health Board members and IU public health officials have said the blueprint of the individual house greatly influences how high its capacity should be. Some houses are better equipped to space out students and create separated quarantine and isolation rooms.
“The Alpha Iota Chapter has the ability and appropriate space within the chapter house, if needed, to isolate and quarantine residents,” Theta Chi said in a statement to the Indiana Daily Student.
The statement said Theta Chi plans to work with IU and Monroe County to make sure safety procedures are followed. Dr. Lana Dbeido, a member of IU’s Medical Response Team, said those include wearing a mask, keeping distance within the house and avoiding common spaces.
Caudill said the Theta Chi request stated since the house had so many COVID-19 cases, more students should be allowed back because a large number have recovered from the coronavirus and are within a supposed 90-day period of immunity.
Multiple greek houses have suggested they may have achieved herd immunity. Dbiedo said that is not necessarily possible. There will always be a large number of students in the house who do not have antibodies.
“For this infection I don't think we can talk about herd immunity because this immunity is not long lasting, so it's not really a true immunity to infection,” Dbeido said.
Dbeido said it is possible to be reinfected within that 90-day period.
Theta Chi’s appeal was submitted as a letter to the department. Caudill expects there to be a formal appeals document soon.
Caudill said no other house has submitted an appeal, and she does not expect many requests to come because of how soon students are going home for Thanksgiving.
Monroe County does not currently have a plan for capacity restrictions during the spring semester, but Caudill said that’s the next step for the board.
Caudill and other Health Board members believe there should be adjustments to the original 75% limit because of decreased positivity rates and fewer new cases per week at IU, especially inside greek houses.
“We learned a lot,” Caudill said. “There’s always room for improvement.”