Campus News

Chancellor holds media release to update community on COVID-19 measures

Image By: Gina Musso

Chancellor Rebecca Blank stands by UW-Madison’s decision to start with in-person instruction for the Fall 2020 semester, despite the recent rise in cases. 

In a media release on Monday, Blank recapped the sudden changes to campus life implemented last week to combat the spread of COVID-19 among students and where UW-Madison stands in the midst of the pandemic. As of Monday, the university had reported 2,167 positive tests from students and staff.

These measures include UW-Madison’s partnership with Public Health Madison and Dane County to quarantine 26 affiliated and unaffiliated fraternity and sorority houses on campus, restrictions limiting in-person interactions among undergraduate students, a two week shift to all-virtual instruction and reducing access to congregation spaces including libraries, gyms and unions. 

The university has also issued a quarantine order for all students residing in the Sellery and Witte dorms. According to Blank, campus officials are gathering resources to quickly test at-risk student populations and all live-in members of sorority and fraternity houses and residences of Sellery and Witte. This will attempt to identify a majority, if not all, of positive cases and subsequently move those students into isolation. 

Despite the disruptions to the university’s “Smart Restart” plan, Blank stood by the decision to open campus at the start of the semester.. She argued that students still would have kept their leases in off-campus Madison housing if classes were online, and that some lab practical and art classes are not suited for virtual instruction. 

“I do believe that the decision to open campus this fall was the right one for several reasons,” Blank said. “In person instruction is the best way for most students to learn. Our safety protocols for classrooms have worked. To date we have no evidence of any transmission inside classroom settings.”

By Monday afternoon, nearly 30,000 tests had been administered to the UW-Madison community, with an on-campus positive rate of 5.4 percent and an additional 653 positive cases reported through off-campus testing, according to Blank. At the time of the media release, no hospitalizations were reported. 

“I want to acknowledge that the numbers of positive tests that we’re seeing on campus have been higher and have increased more rapidly than we had anticipated at this point in the semester,” Blank said. “It’s gone up faster than among most of our peer schools.” 

Blank also recognized UW-Madison’s efforts to deploy staff from the Office of Student Affairs and UWPD to discourage students from participating in off-campus activities and to encourage compliance with undergraduate restrictions. 

Over 380 students are under investigation by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards for COVID-19 related violations, and 12 students are being reviewed for Emergency Suspension. 

“It is difficult to change behaviors, and a small percentage of the population can have a big impact because infection transmission multiplies quickly,” Blank said. “There have been and will continue to be consequences for those who have violated our standards.” 

Students who do not comply with UW-Madison policies are subject to removal from UW Housing or from the university completely. Blank urged students to take responsibility for behaviors that are in the best public health interest. 

“As I said when we announced our two week switch to online instruction, we must bring our daily case totals down and we are taking aggressive action to do that,” Blank said. “The health of our community remains our paramount concern.”

In the next week, UW-Madison is planning to further expand testing capacity, by broadening rapid lamp-based surveillance testing to more quickly identify and isolate positive cases. UW-Madison is also adding more contract tracers to accommodate UW students, staff and faculty who get tested at Alliant Energy Center in an effort to lessen the burden on Dane County public health staff. 

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