Less than a week after UW-Madison decided to move all classes online until April 10 to contain the spread of COVID-19, the university extended its original edict Tuesday through the remainder of the semester.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank sent out a new set of guidelines in an email implementing additional measures the university would undertake to contain the spread of the virus, of which 72 cases in Wisconsin have been confirmed, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.
Nineteen people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Dane County as of Tuesday, including one UW-Madison faculty member in the School of Veterinary Medicine.
“I share the disappointment of students and employees who were anticipating [Memorial Union] Terrace chairs, sunny days on Bascom [Hill] and all of the events that make spring special at UW-Madison,” Blank wrote. “This is not the semester that any of us wanted.”
In addition to canceling face-to-face instruction for the rest of the semester, the university also advised all students who traveled for Spring Break to exercise caution of whether they need to return to Madison to continue their studies or if they could work remotely from their permanent residences.
UW-Madison also said it would allow students in residence halls who cannot return to their homes or access alternate delivery of classes to remain, but noted dining hall services would be limited.
After the university asked for all possible employees to shift to teleworking capacity Monday, UW-Madison said it would take steps to ensure all faculty and staff — including graduate students — who are physically working on campus to move online, except for essential services.
Non-essential staff and employees unable to telecommunicate due to self-quarantine, illness or childcare may receive up to 80 hours of additional funding in an update leave policy sent out by the university.
For those set to graduate in May, Blank noted UW-Madison would provide updates regarding graduation ceremonies.
“I especially acknowledge the disappointment of those completing their studies, whose final semester at UW has been impacted by this unprecedented situation,” Blank said. “We will share more information on Commencement plans in the near future.”
In a separate email, Interim Dean of the College of Letters and Science Eric Wilcots said students would receive “specific information” from their L&S instructors by Friday related to their courses.
“We are committed to providing you excellent educational opportunities in the next weeks and beyond, and to supporting you with the resources you need to best complete this semester,” Wilcots wrote. “Priority #1 is the health and well-being of our entire community. Be sure to take care of yourself and those around you.”
According to Wilcots’ email, students should expect to participate in online lectures and discussions at the same time their in-person classes would normally take place.
While students will receive similar assignments and cover the same course material, Wilcots’ email acknowledged students and staff may need to learn new technological platforms and could experience technical difficulties in communicating with one another.
UW-Madison’s decision came on the heels of an order executed by Gov. Tony Evers to close malls, bars, restaurants, churches, theaters arenas and fitness centers among others and limit social gatherings of 10 people or more.
The order — implemented immediately, beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday — came following the spread of the virus in Milwaukee, Dane and Kenosha counties. More stringent policies were needed, according to Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm.
“We know this will disrupt your lives,” Palm told reporters. “Now is the time to make a plan to stay home.”
The state’s decision expanded on earlier mandates to limit group interactions to less than 50 people and allow bars and restaurants to stay open if they kept their occupancies to a small capacity.
As of now, eating establishments can still operate but can only offer take-out orders. Owners who violate the order could face a $250 fine and 30 days in jail, according to Ryan Nilsestuen, Evers’ chief council.
Exemptions from the restrictions include airports, gas stations, grocery stores, jails, courts, government agencies, hospitals and clinics and polling places.
The legislature will remain exempt as well. Legislators could meet virtually for the first time as a state statute grants them the opportunity to do so. But it has never been done before, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Evers also announced all public and private schools would be closed past an earlier April deadline, similar to UW-Madison’s.
He also plans to enforce an emergency order set to be issued Wednesday, enabling unemployed individuals to immediately receive unemployment benefits instead of having to wait a week to access them.
“Democracy has to continue,” Evers said. “You take some chances in life but this one where I believe that if indeed we deem there is a necessity to meet, we will meet and do the work of the people of Wisconsin.”
UW-Madison will continue to provide more information as future measures are taken across the state — and nation.
“The situation continues to change rapidly, and we will continue to provide updates as soon as we have them,” Blank said.
[Editor’s Note: 3/18/2020, 12:30 p.m.] An earlier version of this story included language regarding Gov. Tony Ever's order to close schools that the Governor's Office has since been revised.