Over 80 UW Madison staff members and community members have signed an open letter calling for increased COVID protections on the UW-Madison campus.
The letter, addressed to Chancellor Mnookin on just her second day on the job. calls for her to implement increased COVID protection protocols on campus similar to those implemented at UCLA, where Mnookin was formerly dean of the law school.
The letter demands, among other things, a return to an indoor mask mandate, indoor air quality assessments, and increased testing on campus.
Dan Fitch, one of the letter’s authors, this is a response to how the university handled COVID in the spring semester.
“The one thing in particular that bothers me is, last week there was a State Journal article where it seems UW Madison has already decided not to test students and workers as they return to campus like they have previously. (And) they have no plans for students to quarantine, just ‘stay in your dorm room,’ which doesn’t seem great. That’s not going to be great for our community, making petri dishes out of the dorms,” Fitch says.
Ankur Desai a professor at UW Madison, and chair of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. He says that he signed the letter to try and keep COVID in the public eye before the fall semester starts.
“It’s very easy, after several long years of this pandemic, to just want to get on with it, and I’m very aware of that. At the same time, with the continuing strains of COVID, as well as any other viruses that may be coming down the pipe, there needs to be continued vigilance. There needs to be a continued look at how we do testing, how we encourage vaccination, when we decide to do masking, and most important to me, continue to push for better ventilation, which we know is going to be the key to reduce indoor transmission of COVID and other viruses,” Desai says.
In Dane County, there were 194 new confirmed COVID cases yesterday, and community levels of the virus remain in the high category.
The letter points to research that says that nearly one in five people who get COVID end up getting long COVID, a chronic illness that can be debilitating and hinder your ability to work, study, or complete everyday tasks.
Karl Broman is professor of biostatistics at UW Madison. He says that, as students begin to come back to Madison, he is concerned that they will bring COVID with them.
“The response to the pandemic cannot be left to individual responsibility, it really needs to be a community effort. Your choice about wearing a mask, or being vaccinated, is not just about yourself, but about protecting the people around you, some of which may be more vulnerable,” Broman says.
Broman adds that he’s hopeful the new chancellor could enforce better protections. .
“The pandemic has been really stressful for everyone. On campus, we have been really optimistic with this leadership change, a chancellor who is coming from a campus that has been more involved in protecting its community. I mean, the point of the letter was to hope that some of the policies at UCLA can be applied to UW Madison,” Broman says.
Fall classes begin on September 7, and Desai says that he is ready for the return of students.
“I’m really excited to have students here on campus. I think it’s great that we can do this, we just need to make sure we are doing all we can to support the health of everyone here so that we can be here on campus and to do this, to teach and learn that lead us in advancements in our state and our country,” Desai says.
A representative of Chancellor Mnookin’s office declined comment today, saying Mnookin didn’t formally receive the letter until late this afternoon, and that she had not had a chance to review it.
Photo courtesy: Chali Pittman / WORT News Team