Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is asking UW-Madison administrators to consider sending students home for the fall semester or increasing the campus’ staffing to counter COVID-19. The request comes after the University reported a spike in COVID-19 cases this weekend.
According to Public Health Madison Dane County, since September 1st, more than nine hundred people have tested positive for the coronavirus. Nearly three quarters of those cases have been either UW-Madison students of faculty.
In an open letter sent today to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UW system president Tommy Thompson, Parisi says local health officials have detected at least 46 separate COVID-19 outbreaks affiliated with the University.
That comes as Public Health is warning that those living and working in downtown Madison should assume they’ve already been exposed to COVID-19 and to monitor for potential symptoms. The health agency added, however, that there’s little evidence of spillover in positive cases from the student population to the larger Madison community.
County Executive Parisi says if the university doesn’t send students home, it should expand its public health efforts.
“We want the University to increase the capacity for students to quarantine, we’re asking the university to triple their contact tracing capacity and increase their testing capacity,” Parisi says.
The request to increase testing capacity on campus comes after the Alliant Energy Center reported yesterday that nearly a quarter of its positive tests were from students — most of whom were from the UW.
The students reportedly chose Alliant over the on-campus testing options because University Health Services was fully booked for its available testing slots. Parisi says if the trend of students going to Alliant to get tested continues, it could cost the county $300,000 in daily test kits alone.
Parisi says the county has been having ongoing conversations with the University over these concerns. But Dane County’s authority is limited.
“We’ve had conversations and express concerns for a number of months. But Dane County does not have the authority to order the University to not have classes,” Parisi says. “Because the University is a state agency, they’re not in our jurisdiction.”
UW-Madison’s return to in-person education was precipitated by a tumultuous financial year. Unexpected costs associated with moving students online, the loss of fall sports and a budget repair bill passed by Governor Tony Evers earlier this year left UW-Madison with a reported $150 million revenue loss.
In a short press release this evening, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said she shared a similar concern for the health and well-being of students, and pointed to the university’s testing capacity and two-week period of reduced social activity for students. She did not follow up on Executive Parisi’s requests.