University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued yet another statement on Monday in response to one from Dane County officials asking that the university take responsibility for rising positive cases.
Blank’s statement comes a day after the Dane County Executive Joe Parisi asked UW-Madison to heed his previous requests including moving undergraduates out of the residence halls and switching to online-only instruction.
“Today, as our state surpasses the 100,000 case mark, 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,” Parisi said. “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.”
Blank responded by saying that the way to reduce COVID-19 in the community “is not by issuing press releases calling for students to leave, but to partner in developing collaborative solutions.”
“Students are an important part of the Madison community. You can’t simply wish them away, nor should you. This is where students live, where they work, where they vote and their presence supports hundreds of local businesses and the Dane County economy,” Blank stated.
The chancellor insinuated that while the university is controlling the virus in the areas under its jurisdiction, local law enforcement and the city’s public health department have not done its share of the work in limiting social gathering in off-campus spaces. Blank’s statement pointed to downtown gatherings at bars, houses and apartment buildings as major sources of spread.
“We know these gatherings can lead to the spread of COVID-19 but UW-Madison does not have jurisdiction to shut down gatherings in off-campus areas,” Blank said. “Until those agencies with enforcement authority take additional action, we shouldn’t expect to see a rapid decline in cases in Dane County.”
Blank’s statement drew criticism on Twitter from residents as well as the Dane County District 5 Supervisor and UW-Madison student Elena Haasl.
“No one is ‘wishing students away.’ There was an executive decision to bring tens of thousands of students back to campus and house them at almost full capacity in dorms, causing a huge spike in Dane County cases,” she tweeted. “This is about safety, not being shady.”