(Photo: A student walks solo in front of the Hamel Music Center downtown; Photo: Chali Pittman/WORT News)
UW-Madison officially reopened last week, bringing thousands of students back to campus. Initially, the university asked students to take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Now, the university is issuing strict guidelines for undergraduate students who do not work to self-isolate for the next two weeks.
On Monday, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank directed students to isolate themselves unless absolutely necessary through Monday, September 21. That came after a five-day period of increasing positive cases on campus, and after nine Greek life houses were ordered to quarantine.
The Chancellor’s directive cancels all in-person social events, mandates that all student meetings, including organization events, be online only with the exception of classes, closes many facilities, makes union dining carry-out only, and bars visitors to residence halls. In the section asking undergraduate students to limit their in-person activities, the directive makes exceptions for purchasing food, working, academic activities, solitary outdoor activities, religious activities, and medical care including COVID tests.
Neither Chancellor Blank nor the university has said so far how exactly the directive will be enforced, but reiterated that the university will “continue to hold students accountable for their actions on and off campus, up to and including emergency suspension.”
Students found to be in violation and suspended could come with a hefty cost. Full tuition refunds stop after the second week of classes.
According to Jessica Gold, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University at Saint Louis, this is the wrong approach. In July, Gold co-authored an article in The Atlantic magazine predicting universities would begin faulting students, rather than institutions, when campuses reopened.
She says that students should do their part to follow the rules and reduce transmission, but not all of them will, and the administration has to be prepared to deal with that.
When WORT asked students last week about the steps that the university has taken, they were split on the issue. Some like Kip, a freshman, said that the university is doing okay.
Others, like Danielle, a senior, said that whatever the university does, it’s ultimately not up to management.
Meanwhile, Associated Students of Madison, the student government body at UW-Madison, called for a “Moral Restart” last Friday, criticizing the university’s steps in the “Smart Restart” as insufficient.
Jacob Broehm, the chair of ASM, says that the number of people in residence halls is unsafe.
Today, UW-Madison announced that it’s conducting analyses of wastewater on campus, including in dorms, which can help public health workers anticipate the spread of coronavirus.
Additionally, Braym says student governance is asking for fully online classes, paid leave for all employees, a minimum wage of $15 per hour, specific testing for in-person activities, and meetings between leadership and campus labor unions.
Blank’s directive began on Monday, and will end in nearly two weeks.