UW-Madison cancelled all in-person classes and activities two weeks ago due to a spike of Covid-19 cases. Now with the 7 day percent positive rate at 5.5 percent, campus officials are getting ready to return to in-person instruction as soon as this weekend.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank says measures taken by the university, like cancelling in-person gatherings, quarantining the two largest dorms, and increasing testing capacity, are working. “We have bent the curve of positive cases, and if we continue to strictly follow public health protocols, we can cautiously resume some in person activities,” she says.
According to Blank, there is no indication Covid-19 has been spreading in classrooms and labs. That is based on staff and facility test results and no clusters of positive tests in a given class identified by contract tracers.
However Blank has received backlash for not moving to an all-virtual model. Dane County executive Joe Parisi has repeatedly asked Chancellor Blank to switch to virtual classes, citing increased utilization of Dane County resources by UW-Madison students. The County Executive’s latest missive came last Sunday, in a statement reading: “Today, as our state surpasses the 100,000, we find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases fueled largely by the University System’s decision to return to in-person classes. This decision has greatly impacted our community and others, and has now catapulted Wisconsin into the top three states in the nation for increases in the rate of infection.”
Regardless, Blank says the university will move forward with limited in-person instruction. “Why have we not gone fully virtual? For the simple reason that we continue to believe there is a real value to in-person classes when we can hold them safely,” Blank explains. “And as we’ve indicated, we have not seen any evidence of virus transmission in the classroom. We have some number of classes that have to be in person in order to fulfill the requirements–some of the clinical class, certain lab classes that require specialized equipment, and that type of thing.”
Free testing is available to all students and university employees. Students who live on campus are tested every two weeks, but will soon be tested every week, according to Executive Director of University Health Services Jake Baggot.
For students who refuse to comply with the University’s public health guidance, 20 individuals face emergency suspension. In addition, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori Reesor says that about 550 students and 11 organizations are facing consequences for public health violations. “In general, we know most of our students are trying to do the right thing,” she elaborates, “but those who are not, and especially for those egregious behaviors, we are taking this extremely seriously because they are telling us that they are not willing to follow these guidelines and they are not willing to be at UW-Madison.”
Students who cancel their housing contract can receive a prorated refund. Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller says since the beginning of the month over 500 students have cancelled their housing contract with the university. Many cancelled prior to move-in.
Residents in two dorms, Witte and Sellery are no longer under quarantine. For the past two weeks, residents in these halls were only allowed to leave their rooms to use the restroom and pick up delivered food. According to the university website, the quarantine ended at 8am Wednesday.
Some classes will resume in-person instruction beginning Saturday. To date, 2726 students and 49 employees have tested positive for Covid-19. Of the 2,775 total students and faculty who have tested positive for COVID-19, 70% were tested on campus and about 30% were tested off-campus.