Campus News

Alliance formed by CDC, DHS and UW-Madison looks at COVID-19 on campus

Image By: Courtesy of PHA Board

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus have led UW-Madison to establish a partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This proposal was spearheaded toward the beginning of September by the School of Medicine and Public Health at UW-Madison.

“The three [organizations] could work together to better understand COVID-19 on college campuses, build upon knowledge about the virus that causes the disease and contribute to improved local, state and national response to the pandemic,” said the UW’s Director of Research Communications Kelly Tyrrell in a Sept. 25 news release.

Further antibody investigation was another preliminary initiative. “One of the questions to help our big picture understanding right now is — are those antibodies protective and is reinfection possible as well?” says medical epidemiologist and Wisconsin CDC initiative leader Hannah Kirking.

To attain necessary samples, the three agencies relied on voluntary donations of saliva and blood from students. Before receiving these tests, students must fill out paperwork — some forms involving surveys that target risky or protective behaviors that may affect transmission. Patterns and correlations between antibody identification and test results may be uncovered throughout the frequent testing process.

Within four days of conducting related tests, public health investigators received 600 antibody samples from students. 1,500 epidemiological surveys had been submitted by students in just over one week.

“We're trying to understand how this is affecting patients in their communities … no one's not part of COVID right now.”

Inspiration for the partnership derived from the agencies’ understanding that they would gain access to large sample sizes and data. In the university’s residence halls alone, over 6,000 students are required to get tested for COVID-19 at an on-campus testing facility each week for the duration of the Fall 2020 semester.

The CDC stationed ten employees on the Madison campus to provide knowledge on quarantine- and isolation-related occurrences, as well as to help conduct COVID-19 tests. 

Kirking notes that the team contacted Ryan Westergaard — a UW-Madison professor of medicine and DHS state epidemiologist — in an effort to collaborate with Wisconsin universities and their resources.

Kirking also describes CDC epidemic intelligence service officer (DHS-based) Hannah Segaloff as “the important link between the federal and local public health and university response needs.” Segaloff works alongside UW-Madison employees like Devlin Cole, a School of Medicine and Public Health preventive medicine resident.

“I was interested in our ability to synergize with what was already happening here on campus, adding a little bit more, and trying to have Wisconsin be a place that could help us understand better what’s happening,” Kirking says when emphasizing campus involvement with COVID-19 initiatives. 

A photo gallery included in Tyrrell’s news release focuses on ways in which the university works with the CDC and Wisconsin DHS around the Madison campus.

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