UW-Madison advised students who travel for the Thanksgiving holiday to not return to campus until the spring semester in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
A recent uptick of COVID-19 cases in Madison and across Wisconsin prompted concerns as the holiday season nears. Over the course of two weeks, the university’s seven-day average positivity rate has more than doubled, including 100 students currently in quarantine or isolation, according to UHS Executive Director Jake Baggott.
While UW increased its testing efforts, particularly in residence halls, Baggott called on students to help the university control the spread of the virus by adhering to social distancing protocols and restricting their activities.
“We need you to step up now, just as you’ve done before,” Baggott said. “You don’t want COVID[-19] to spoil those plans or infect your family members.”
University Health Services (UHS) released a set of guidelines for students who are planning to leave campus, requesting that those who choose to travel “do not return until spring semester,” and those who need to stay in Madison until the end of fall term do not travel at all.
The UHS “COVID-19 Holiday Guidance” recommends that before students leave, they should “strictly limit [their] activities from now until [they] depart” and “self-quarantine until [they] travel” after taking a COVID-19 test.
While traveling, students are recommended to use personal vehicles and wear face coverings around people outside their household. Once students reach their destination, they should continue to self-monitor for symptoms and limit the number of people they come in contact with.
For students who plan to stay in Madison or Dane County, UHS recommends consulting the guidelines outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for safe holiday celebration, including hosting virtual get-togethers rather than in-person events and limiting the number of people handling and serving food.
UW freshman Liah Francart told WKOW she was unaware of the university’s directive. While she intends to spend Thanksgiving in Illinois and return to campus after break, she noted it may be easier to complete her coursework on campus than at home.
“I feel like I’ll be able to focus better here in my dorm and be able to use lots of study rooms, study with friends in classes,” Francart said.
While most campuses in the UW System will fully transition to online classes post-Thanksgiving, any student who plans on returning to campus will be required to take one COVID-19 test before they leave and twice after they return, according to a memo from UW System President Tommy Thompson addressed to the chancellors.
UW Spokesperson Meredith McGlone said the latest guidelines serve as an update for directives handed out last month pertaining to students traveling in and out of Madison.
“As we’ve gotten to the Thanksgiving break period, we’ve been reaching out with more and more specific information as to what to do if they are in one of several scenarios,” McGlone said.
Contracts for residential housing through Dec. 18 will not be prorated for students traveling and remaining off campus for the subsequent three weeks after Thanksgiving break, according to McGlone.
On top of regular campus testing hours, weekend testing in advance of Thanksgiving recess on Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22 will be available.