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Sunday, February 28, 2021

UW to make all testing drop-in, delay use of Badger Badges after lines, scheduling troubles

Starting on Sunday, UW-Madison students and faculty will no longer need an appointment to get tested for COVID-19. The university announced the change on Friday, after some students experienced long waits at testing sites or difficulty scheduling appointments. 

The university also announced that use of its Safer Badgers app to bar access to campus facilities by those who are behind on testing or have tested positive will not begin until Feb. 1.

The announced changes come days before the university begins its Spring semester with a new set of policies to combat the virus, including mandatory twice-per-week testing and the new app for contact tracing and building access.

Students can view available testing facilities in the Safer Badgers app, where different colored symbols will be used to indicate estimated wait times at each of the 14 on-campus testing facilities. Students will need to update their Safer Badgers app anytime after Saturday, Jan. 23 at 8:00 p.m. to access these new updates.

As previously announced, students will be required to show their “Badger Badge” — a page on the app that displays a user’s recent test results — in order to enter campus buildings starting on February 1. Badger Wellness Ambassadors will be stationed around campus to check students’ Badger Badges before entering UW facilities.

To comply with campus testing requirements, students are instructed to get tested twice per week throughout the Spring 2021 semester. To enter campus buildings, students must have a negative test result from within 4 days (96 hours). 

Students living in off-campus residences are offered saliva-based testing, and students living in on-campus residence halls are the only students who have access to the nasal swab tests used in the fall 2020 semester. 

According to the UW COVID-19 response website, the campus’s nasal swab capacity is approximately 12,000 tests per week and saliva-based testing expands testing capacity by up to 70,000 tests per week.

At a media briefing on Thursday, campus officials hosted a virtual information session to recap the semester’s testing protocols. 

“The idea is to quickly identify individuals who might be asymptomatic carriers before they unknowingly spread the virus,” UW-Madison Associate Vice Chancellor and Executive Director Jake Baggott said. “This expanded testing strategy should really have a significant impact on our ability to identity cases early and help support folks that might test positive and get them out of the community as quickly as possible and support them in isolation and quarantine.”

In the briefing, Coronavirus Student Task Force Chair Aerin Leigh Lammers offered a student perspective on the testing updates. 

“I think that with any new testing regime or with any new system there’s going to be growing pains, there’s going to be a shifted mentality for students to try to understand,” Lammers said. “I was somebody who was testing frequently last semester and this is still going to be definitely an increase in testing for me, but ultimately I think, from a student perspective, most of us are pretty excited about the fact that we really are going to feel a lot more comfortable walking around on campus, feel a lot more comfortable going into the larger Madison community knowing that we’re not going to be the cause of a big spread.”

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