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Washington State announces 53 new positive student-athlete COVID-19 cases

Sorosh Kherghehpoush, 26, center, a pharmacist and academic fellow at WSU administers a COVID-19 test at a pop-up testing site on WSU’s campus on Wednesday, September 2, 2020, in Pullman, Wash. The mobile unit is operated by Range Health of WSU’s colleges of Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and will stay on campus for three days as part of the University’s push to expand testing capacity.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Student-athletes at Washington State haven’t been spared from the recent surge of COVID-19 cases on the Pullman campus.

On Friday, WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun said 53 new positive tests had been recorded among Cougar athletes – a dramatic increase from mid-August, when the AD said there had been only seven positive cases since the school began administering tests in early June.

In total, 60 student-athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 since June. The school has tested more than 1,600 athletes during that time frame, meaning more than 3.5% of tests have returned positive.

“The past few weeks in Pullman have seen an increase of COVID-19 positive cases,” Chun said during a media webinar Friday afternoon. “Unfortunately, we have not been immune as an athletic department to the COVID spike in our community. … So, our teams have continued with their activities with an abundance of cautions and we continue to stay within our improved protocols that’s outlined by the campus, Pac-12 Conference, NCAA, local, state, federal guidelines.”

Every athlete who’s tested positive for COVID-19 has recovered, or is currently recovering, Chun said.

When Chun reported COVID-19 numbers in July, only three student-athletes had tested positive, though two of those came upon re-entry and the third was a roommate of one of the previous two. There was a small uptick in cases last month, with four additional positive tests among athletes.

The most recent spike is directly tied to the return of students to WSU over the past two to three weeks. Even though the university is employing an online-only approach this fall, The Spokesman-Review learned through a source that more than 50% of students elected to return to the Palouse, and approximately 80% of students who have off-campus housing are honoring their lease agreements by returning.

According to a New York Times story published earlier in the week, the Pullman area was the top COVID-19 hot spot in the country, reporting 7.2 per cases per 1,000 residents. As of Monday, there were 835 total cases in the county, with 623 of those coming in the past two weeks.

Only seven Pac-12 schools are releasing COVID-19 data for student-athletes at the moment: Arizona, California, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Washington and WSU. Of those, WSU is the only one to have more than 20 cumulative COVID-19 cases among its athletes. Three of those seven schools – Washington, Oregon State and Stanford – operate on a different academic calendar than WSU and have yet to start the fall semester, meaning the majority of students may not be back on campus yet.

“It’s been noted we’re one of the college communities that have been impacted negatively by the virus,” Chun said. “… By and large, all these cases are due to the recent outbreak on campus.”