The Monroe County Board of Health unanimously approved updated COVID-19 regulations for greek houses at a Thursday meeting for increased use of dining space allowances as well as stronger enforcement from the county.
Margie Rice, legal counsel for the board, presented the updated regulations to the board after meetings with IU officials Thursday morning and meetings with IU greek organizations last week.
“Rules and regulations, maybe with a few tweaks, are working when followed,” Rice said.
The updated regulations allow for greek houses to use their own dining rooms as long as tables are spaced a safe distance apart. The board said the idea is to create setups similar to what is being used in restaurants.
That would eliminate the currently mandated “meal plan” format of guests picking up food and leaving the dining room. The now-opened dining rooms can be closed on a house-by-house basis if positivity rates increase to a rate which necessitates the board doing that.
On-campus dining halls still follow the grab-and-go model. Dr. Aaron Carroll, IU’s director of mitigation testing, does not plan on changing that policy anytime soon.
Rice also included clauses in the updated regulation to allow for stronger enforcement of the county’s policies. In previous meetings this fall, board members have discussed early failures to enforce its rules. The enforcement section of the new policy allows Rice and the board freedom to be stricter and intervene earlier when rules are being ignored — as has previously been occurring in the houses.
Houses will still be required to provide both isolation and quarantine spaces within their house. If the blueprint of a house does not allow for separated spaces for which to quarantine and isolate, Health Administrators Penny Caudill and Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Sharp will work with the houses and outside facilities to find proper spaces.
Much of the original regulations like mask-wearing in the houses and occupancy sizes remained the same. The previously adopted provision for Caudill and Sharp to approve exceptions to the 75% capacity limit. Caudill and Sharp did approve an exception for Theta Chi.
Celinda Leach, the chair of the health board, said in last week’s meetings with greek organizations, the majority of concerns were over occupancy limits, the city of Bloomington’s 15-person gathering limit and guests in the house.
The updated regulations still do not allow “non-essential” guests into the houses.
Leach also said there tended to be correlations between the houses that were handling the pandemic well and those that were following the rules set by Monroe County and IU, while the houses with higher positivity rates were not following the rules closely, if not outright ignoring them.
Multiple board members stated from their meetings with greek students, they saw a belief among that group that just because they may have previously been infected with COVID-19, they are completely immune and can do whatever they want for the next 90 days. While IU will not test previously infected students for the 90 days after their isolation ends, the board stated that doesn’t mean a student cannot be re-infected.
These policies will likely still apply for houses upon the return in the spring semester. While in-person classes do not resume until Feb. 8, 2021, the board expects many greek life students to move back into the houses before then.
Dave O’Guinn, IU’s vice provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, said in the meeting the school will work with the greek organizations on their move-in plans, and have on-arrival testing for those students when they return.
Carroll said all students will be tested upon arrival in the spring similar to what was conducted in the fall.
These updates come while Indiana reported a new record of single-day increases in the state with over 4,000 new cases. The state's color codes COVID-19 positivity rates in each county with yellow referring to 5%-9.9% and orange meaning 10%-14.9%. The vast majority of Indiana is coded orange, but Monroe County is yellow for the time being.
Caudill believes the county’s low positivity rate may be slightly skewed given the many negative test results coming from IU.
“At this moment I would say that I’m happy we’re still in yellow,” Caudill said. “We could very easily be orange next week.”