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Sunday, January 29, 2023

UW moves all classes online, quarantines two dorms for two weeks after county executive asks for campus to send students home

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank has elected not to heed requests from Dane County elected officials, instead opting to move to completely remote instruction from Sept. 10 to the 25. 

The university released a statement late Wednesday night announcing the switch after Blank and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi exchanged statements regarding rising positive cases of COVID-19 among students earlier in the day.

In his public letter addressed to the Chancellor and UW System President Tommy Thompson, Parisi requested that UW-Madison send students in university housing home for the semester due to the increasing positive cases on campus which impact the greater Madison community.

Parisi expressed his concern about the Dane County daily infection rate being at an all time high — at least 74 percent of Dane County’s new Covid positive cases have been attributed to UW since Sept. 1.

"The University made the decision to proceed with holding classes this fall despite recommendations from local and national experts urging virtual only classes this semester,” Parisi said. “We all love our great University and what it brings to our community. Unfortunately, given the pandemic, congregating these students has significantly impacted the capacity of the public health system, local public health efforts, and may impact the health of our community.”

As a result, Parisi asked that UW-Madison require undergraduates living in residence halls to move back home for the rest of this semester. 

He also requested that officials establish more on-campus quarantine facilities, triple the number of UW Madison contract tracers within the next 30 days and increase testing capacity on campus. 

UW Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank released a statement in response to Parisi’s request later on Wednesday. 

“County Executive Parisi and I both share similar concern for the health and well-being of UW-Madison students and the residents of Dane County,” she said. “That is the primary reason we have instituted a robust testing regime — to ensure we knew about and could take action related to the spread of COVID-19.”

In her statement, Blank expressed that she believes that while cases are rising, they will soon return to normal as the university enters its two-week period of reduced activity for undergraduates.

She addressed Parisi’s request to triple the number of UW Madison contact tracers and increase testing capacity, noting that UW has “significant testing capacity,” dozens of contact tracers and over 1,000 spaces for students in need of isolation or quarantine.

Blank also responded to Parisi’s request to move students out of the dorms for the semester. 

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“The university does not believe that asking students to leave the residence halls is warranted at this time,” Blank said. “The university has taken a number of actions to slow the spread of the virus and additional actions will be announced soon.”

Hours later, in an email sent to UW faculty, students and staff late Wednesday evening, Blank announced new guidelines alongside remote learning to slow on-campus spread of the virus. 

“Given the high number of positive test results in Sellery and Witte Residence Halls, we have directed all residents in these buildings to quarantine in place for the next two weeks effective at 10 p.m. this evening,” Blank said. “All residents of these halls who have not already been tested this week will be required to test on Thursday and Friday. University Health Services (UHS) will conduct these tests on-site.”

Blank also specified that students in the dorms “are NOT being asked to move out of the residence halls or leave town.” In addition, all in-person study places including University Libraries, the Wisconsin Union and academic buildings will be closed as well as University Recreation & Wellbeing facilities and University Health Services.

Dining services will provide carry-out only for Housing residents and staff and the Wisconsin Union will provide curbside food pickup only. Freshmen students quarantined in Sellery and Witte will be fed breakfast, lunch and dinner at specified times over the next two weeks.

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