Teams from the Centers for Disease Control implemented two probes on the UW-Madison community this week, one within the UW football team and another testing the student body for COVID-19 antibodies.
CDC researchers are analyzing test samples from the football players and staff members to pinpoint the exact cause of an outbreak the team experienced, while UW students are volunteering blood to see if they contracted the coronavirus in the past.
The decision to bring in the CDC comes after Wisconsin reached a high of over 260,000 coronavirus cases last week. The state’s seven-day average test positivity rate rose to 36.4 percent, including 7,400 new cases and 58 deaths.
UW-Madison’s virus activity has been on the rise as well. In early October, the campus’ seven-day average positive test rate dropped below 1 percent, but now hovers at 3.3 percent as of Thursday, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.
After being forced to cancel its last two games, the UW football team is now being probed by the CDC to investigate the cause of the team’s outbreak. Seventeen players and 13 staff members a part of the team have tested positive since Oct. 21, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Specifically, the CDC is working with the Badgers to determine if multiple clusters caused the COVID-19 outbreak on the team or if it was introduced by one point of contact.
“Obviously, we don’t want to repeat what happened,” Head Coach Paul Chryst said Monday in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “And I don’t know that we can be in control of everything, but you want to do all that you can.”
Amid the disruption to the season, Chryst offered his players and staff multiple suggestions to prevent future transmission of the virus, including how to safely board buses and planes and how players should alternate times they drink out of glasses or water bottles when seated next to each other.
With only five active cases and team officials noting as of Monday that the last five to six days of testing yielded no positive results, the Badgers will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to play the University of Michigan Wolverines this Saturday (1-2 Big Ten, 1-2 overall).
At the same time, another team from the CDC started testing students for antibodies this week, in an attempt to understand how common asymptomatic carriers are within a student body, according to WISN-12.
The research will further inform the CDC and university authorities on how to prevent the virus from spreading in shared living spaces like residence halls and Greek life housing. It will also help the CDC piece together essential information about antibodies, including how long they stay in the body.
"For some of those students, if they had antibodies at the beginning of the semester, we would be able to see if they still have antibodies now," CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer Dr. Hannah Segaloff said. "I think we'd all like to know more about what having antibodies means, and hopefully we can help solve a piece of that puzzle.”
So far, students have expressed enthusiasm toward helping the CDC’s research.
"The biggest reason I wanted to do this was to see if I had COVID in the past and didn't know about it, and that way if I do test positive, then I can donate my antibodies," UW-Madison student Mara Allen said in an interview with WISN-12.
The CDC will release data on both the results of the football team’s outbreak and antibody tests in the coming weeks.