Effective at 5 p.m. Monday, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank directed all undergraduate students to “severely limit in-person interaction and restrict their movement” for two weeks following a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Blank’s directive, which will extend until Sept. 21, asks for undergraduate students to socially distance themselves and only leave their residences for “essential activities.”
“We’ve reached the point where we need to quickly flatten the curve of infection, or we will lose the opportunity to have campus open to students this semester, which we know many students truly want,” Blank wrote in an email. “While some increase was expected as testing expanded and students returned to campus, the growing number of infected individuals suggests the virus is starting to spread more rapidly.”
Essential activities include receiving a COVID-19 test or other medical care, buying food, working at an on or off-campus job, attending a religious ceremony or individually exercising outdoors.
Academic activities, including in-person classes, research and study spaces, will continue because data acquired by the university indicates transmission of the virus does not occur during these times, according to the email.
Undergraduate students, both on and off-campus, found to have violated the directive could face potential punishments, including suspension.
The restrictions, however, will not apply to UW graduate students, faculty and staff members due to lower infection rates and no evidence of infection occurring through on-campus activities.
Over the past week, the number of confirmed cases within the UW community spiked to over 100 new cases per day. On Saturday, Dane County set a record-high 147 new cases of which UW students and staff assumed over half the total.
In addition to directing a number of UW Greek life organizations to quarantine, Blank also pointed to social gatherings as a primary cause in transmitting the virus, particularly among those who live off-campus.
“We see this reflected in the data, but it’s also apparent in social media posts and in conversations with students who have tested positive,” Blank said. “Unfortunately, too many students have chosen to host or participate in social gatherings that seem to demonstrate a high disregard for the seriousness of this virus and the risk to our entire community.”
To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the university, for the next two weeks, will cancel all in-person social events, and ask that other student meetings — with the exception of in-person and hybrid classes — be moved online. All RecWell facilities will be closed, dining halls will only offer carry-out and no visitors will be allowed in UW residence halls as well.
The university also advised its community members to not attend any social gathering, delay non-essential travel and to follow health guidelines outlined in its Badger Pledge and Smart Restart protocols.
“This virus cannot be controlled without each of us modifying our normal behavior,” Blank said. “Until there is a vaccine, we must behave in a way that recognizes the threat it poses.”
In enforcing Blank’s edict, the university will follow the same procedures — through the Office of Student Conduct and Community Services. UW will rely on multiple resources, including observation by university employees, public complaints and social media to find undergraduate students who do not adhere to the rules, according to UW Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone.
“Our seniors want to complete their year without going home. Our freshmen want a college experience, not a return to their high school days,” Blank said. “Only a serious recommitment to public health protocols by our whole community will make this possible.”