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Monday, January 25, 2021

UW-Madison unveils COVID-19 protocols for spring semester

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the spring semester, UW-Madison will greatly expand its mandatory testing regime, require proof of up-to-date negative tests and call on students to restrict their movement upon returning to the Madison area, the university announced Friday.

Long awaited information regarding the oncoming term’s COVID-19 protocols on campus was shared with students in an email from Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

“The new measures, which increase the scope and frequency of testing, are an expectation for all students and represent a significant change from the fall semester,” says Blank in Friday’s email. “Proof of recent negative test results will be needed in order to access campus facilities and services.”

First, the university aims to expand testing for students living both on and off-campus. Testing must occur twice weekly and any member of the campus community who plans on attending in-person classes or using campus facilities must show their updated results.

“Expanded testing will identify more people who are infected and enable them to take precautions immediately to protect themselves, their friends and families, and the broader community,” says Blank.

UW-Madison is working with Shield T3 — an organization founded at the University of Illinois — to obtain PCR tests for campus community members. These rapid — a wait time of 24 hours or fewer for results — saliva-based tests will be made available in January. 

Students will be able to visit a number of testing sites spaced throughout campus, access appointments seven days a week and get tested during unconventional operating hours if needed, the email says.

Test results will be available through a new mobile app that campus community members will use to monitor their results, manage appointments and gain access to university buildings. The "Safer Badgers" app supplies campus community members with the “Badger Badge” — a screen on the application that “will serve as a virtual access pass for entry into buildings where in-person classes and other in-person activities are being held.” 

The app also includes a contact tracing feature that “provides anonymous, secure notifications to anyone who has been in proximity to another participating app user who has tested positive for COVID-19.” The app uses bluetooth interactions with other devices — not location tracking — to recognize when these contacts occur.

“Proximity is initially set as 2 hours within about 6 to 10 feet,” Blank says in her email. If all students comply with the Safer Badgers app, which will be necessary if they plan on accessing any campus facilities, the COVID-19 exposure notification technology will ideally motivate awareness for essential precautionary measures.

Ultimately, the app is being implemented to associate testing with access to campus buildings — an incentive for students to partake in bi-weekly testing. According to Blank’s email and the COVID-19 response website, students without smartphones will be able to access smartphones through a campus loan program. The Safer Badgers website will also provide said students with the option of printing their Badger Badges for admittance to campus buildings.

Lastly, the email calls on all students returning to the Madison area to restrict their movement prior to completing two negative tests on campus. Restricted movement is essentially the act of limiting activities outside of your residence to those that are absolutely necessary — i.e. attending a class that meets in person. 

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Blank outlines testing protocols for students living both on-campus and off-campus upon their returns to Madison. Students living in residence halls will begin testing twice a week effective immediately upon their arrival and will be required to acquire two negative tests on-campus by Jan. 31. 

Students living off-campus will be required to receive two negative tests by Jan. 31, as well; however, bi-weekly testing will not be required until Jan. 25 — the beginning of Spring semester instruction. According to Blank, “You [students living off-campus] should plan to complete two on-campus tests, at least three days apart, between Jan. 14 and Jan. 24. At minimum, you must have one on-campus test before the start of classes Jan. 25.”

Campus community members who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 are not required to receive tests for 90 consecutive days following the positive test. Campus testing protocols will apply to these individuals once 90 days have passed.

The “Spring Semester 2021 Overview” page on the UW-Madison COVID-19 Response website — formerly known as the “Smart Restart” plan — will be updated in the coming weeks as university officials release new information in preparation for the Spring semester.

The newly-implicated procedures have a lot to make up for given intense criticisms of the Smart Restart plan back in September. Critics said that plan represented a disregard for BIPOC communities, Teaching Assistants and immunocompromised individuals, and it failed to stop a near-immediate outbreak on campus as the Fall semester began. Since Aug. 6, UW-Madison has seen a total of 5,238 positive tests among students and employees — inclusive of tests taken on- and off-campus. 

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