Since the reopening of campus last week, Covid-19 cases have spiked at UW-Madison. 772 students have tested positive since classes began last week.
Today, Public Health Madison Dane County reported 456 new cases of coronavirus, a majority of which are preliminary believed to be linked to UW-Madison students and staff.
In an attempt to control the spread of the virus, UW-Madison has placed two dorms under strict quarantine and moved all instruction online for two weeks, starting last night.
Some local officials are worried that the university doesn’t have the testing capacity to deal with the growing number of cases, and that the burden of testing will fall on Dane county.
Last night, campus grocery store Fresh Market was flooded with students buying snacks and supplies. They had just learned that in several hours, residents in Sellery and Witte, two of the campus’s largest residence halls, would be quarantined.
“So then it went into like a mass chaos and everyone was running out of the halls going to grocery stores,” says Danica Anderson, a freshman living at Witte.
Anderson says that the university hadn’t told students anything about a quarantine until an email was sent around 8pm that evening. The quarantine went into effect two hours later.
That email was amidst a flood of releases from UW, alerting students to more campus changes. Classes were cancelled for the rest of the week, and beginning Monday, would be virtual for two weeks. UW libraries, unions, gyms, and academic buildings are closed during that time, and most in-person gatherings are cancelled.
The quarantine and switch to exclusively online instruction for two weeks comes after local officials voiced concerns over UW-Madison’s testing and contact tracing capacity. On Wednesday, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi sent a letter to University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank requesting that the University drastically increase its public health efforts, or send undergraduates home for the semester.
“Our concern is as their number of cases increase, and they’re overwhelmed, that we will be required to pick up more and more of the work that needs to be done,” Parisi says.
Janel Heinrich, Director Of Public Health Madison & Dane County, says while students will increase the spread of Covid-19 in Madison, sending students away now has its own dangers.
“But returning them home has the risk of introducing the illness into their own home communities,” Heinrich says, “which is something to be considerate of as well in that decision point.”
In his open letter to UW-Madison, Executive Parisi wrote that some students were having difficulty booking appointments for tests at University Health Services. Parisi says that increased burden on the Alliant Energy Center could equate to at least $300,000 in test kits alone.
The UW says that it has the necessary testing capacity, but some students have struggled to schedule appointments. Reilly Birkett, a senior at UW-Madison, says a friend of a friend recently tested positive for COVID-19. So she tried to book an appointment with the University.
“All of the appointments for the next seven days at one location were gone,” Birkett says, “and at the other location the next available appointment wasn’t until Tuesday.”
Birkett ended up driving to the testing site at the Alliant Energy Center, but says that isn’t an option for everyone.
“Y’know, the availability of testing, these are important, especially on campus. A lot of students don’t have cars or transportation to get to the Alliant Energy Center,” Birkett says.
Since August, UW-Madison has run 19,715 students tests. Some of those tests may be repeats, as students in residence halls are required to be tested every other week.
“So each roommate gets tested bi-weekly, so each roommate gets tested once a week, and then if your roommate has it you guys both quarantine,” says Sellery resident Mason Brunner, speaking to WORT outside Fresh Market last night.
There are 42,869 students currently enrolled at UW-Madison, as of today. However, some students may be attending classes entirely online from home. Combined, Sellery and Witte Hall have over 2,000 students, all of which Chancellor Blank says must be tested by tomorrow if they haven’t already been tested this week.
Today, the University said that students housed in Witte have had positive test results of nearly 10 percent, and students housed in Sellery have had positive test results of 17 percent. Students at the residence halls are not allowed to leave their dorm during the lockdown unless they are retrieving curbside food delivery.
Joseph Erhmann, a freshman living in Witte, says he thinks this was somewhat inevitable.
“Well of course its gonna happen if you’ve got small dorms and a buncha guys,” Erhmann says, “but I mean, what’d they expect, y’know?”
Birkett shared his sentiments.
“It’s kinda right around the time where I feel like they should have prepared more for this specific time range,” Birkett says.
UW-Madison’s percent of positive cases per all tests stands at 19.5%. Other UW campuses have slightly higher averages. UW-Whitewater has a positive percentage of 20%, while UW-Platteville’s positive test percentage is 21.5%.
Residents can go to the Public Health Madison and Dane County website and register for a Covid-19 test, or find a testing site nearby.