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Monday, December 06, 2021

As UW ramps up testing enforcement, some students describe confusion, concerns

UW-Madison students have expressed confusion with the university’s attempts to enforce its new testing policies while the UW administration maintains that their communication strategy has been effective. 

All UW-Madison undergraduate students living on or around campus are required to adhere to a testing schedule in conjunction with the use of the Safer Badgers app this semester, but issues regarding compliance have surfaced. 

For example, in recent weeks some students have received emails reminding them of compliance and urging them to get tested, although some of these communications to students are unwarranted. 

UW freshman Maggie Hayes is one of the students that received emails stressing compliance, despite being exempt from university testing as a result of a previous positive test.

“I was surprised that they had emailed me and accused me of not following their policy,” said Hayes. “I had spoken to someone over the phone telling me that I didn’t have to get tested.”

Hayes also emailed her House Fellow, who told her not to worry about it given her circumstances. 

“I think the university is so overwhelmed that they’re mass sending these emails without understanding all of the student’s circumstances,” continued Hayes. 

Zoe Rucinsky, another first-year student, received an email from the university as well. 

“The email said that I was flagged for being non-compliant and explained the university testing requirements and that if I got flagged again, I would be sent to the Dean of Students Office for disciplinary action,” said Rucinsky, who had gone home due to a recent exposure and continued to get tested through UW-Oshkosh every three days. 

Despite testing negative, Rucinsky cannot upload her negative test results to the Safer Badger app due to university policy prohibiting negative test results from external testing sites being uploaded to the app. 

After UHS assured Rucinsky that she would not get in trouble for not testing when she reached out about her recent negative test results from an off-campus testing location, she was surprised to receive an email about compliance and disciplinary action.

“It caused me to panic,” stressed Rucinsky. “I’m on a full scholarship from UW and this could potentially impact that.” 

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Enforcement meant to promote adherence ranges from warnings to disciplinary actions, including restricted access to campus WiFi and the inability to add or drop classes, according to the UW Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. Consequences for continued lack of testing involve disciplinary probation — which is part of students’ permanent record — as well as the inability to study abroad in future semesters and suspension. 

“I think they [the university] need to keep in mind that they can’t accuse everyone of violating policy when they [some students] may have an actual exemption or excuse,” said Hayes, underscoring how she found the University Housing Ogg testing site to be “super-crowded.”

Rucinsky echoed those concerns, stating that the testing program has been “far from efficient.” 

“Since I work and have classes, I usually can’t get tested until later at night, and most locations within walking distance on campus are closed by then,” said Rucinsky, emphasizing how weekend testing is scarce and that wait times are often long after 4 p.m. when she is able to test. 

Earlier in the semester, Rucinsky also had two of her samples lost by the lab, causing her to have to wait three days for her test results. 

Despite these sentiments, the university found communications concerning testing compliance to be appropriate, as they “expect that a warning will be sufficient for the vast majority of students” who are not complying. 

The university is working to ensure they have the most accurate and complete information regarding student testing compliance, said director of News and Media Relations, Meredith McGlone, when asked about the compliance emails sent out to students. 

“We will not take disciplinary action against any student if the information is determined to be incorrect,” said McGlone, encouraging students that believe they were incorrectly deemed as noncompliant to reply to the email from the university and provide additional information. 

“The goal is to make it as easy as possible for students to comply,” McGlone continued, emphasizing that testing remains key to a safer campus. 

“Because of the frequent and abundant testing we’re doing, we are catching infections early, before students develop symptoms; without these tests, students might never have known they were positive,” said McGlone. “This is critically important in reducing the spread of the disease.” 

The virus has been far less prevalent this semester than in the fall, when cases spiked and the campus underwent a two-week shut down. Nine positive cases among students were reported on Monday, while the seven-day positivity rate is 0.4% according to the university COVID-19 dashboard

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