The University of Wisconsin-Madison responded with recommendations from Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) health officials as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared Dane County a “high” community level of transmission as of July 21. This is because of an increase in hospitalizations and confirmed cases around the county.
The CDC found a case rate of 310.59 per 100,000 people in Dane County. They also found 4.8% of staffed inpatient beds are currently occupied by patients confirmed to have COVID-19.
Currently, 91.7% of Dane County residents have at least one dose of the vaccine, while 83.8% have been fully vaccinated, the CDC reported.
PHMDC health officials encourage students and staff to wear masks in indoor public spaces, specifically N95s or KN95s, which provide the greatest amount of protection — regardless of vaccination status. They also recommend staying up to date on vaccinations, including booster shots.
“We’re seeing this trend of communities moving to medium and high levels nationwide, and it is possible we could bounce between medium and high levels for a few weeks,” PHMDC director Janel Heinrich said in a release. “Being aware of our local landscape — especially if you are immunocompromised or at risk of severe illness — and taking appropriate actions can help prevent the spread of the virus.”
With a “high” community level of transmission in Dane County, the CDC offered several recommendations, especially for those who are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease. Guidance includes wearing a mask, avoiding non-essential indoor public activities and speaking with a healthcare provider.
Students and staff are encouraged to stay home and get tested when feeling sick, UW-Madison said in a July 21 statement. The university is offering COVID-19 vaccinations along with PCR testing by appointment at no cost. Students can make appointments through MyUHS.
The university is continuing the policies currently in place for students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 until further notice. Individuals must isolate for at least five days upon testing positive and may only leave isolation if they have gone at least 24 hours without a fever and if other symptoms go away, according to University Health Services at UW-Madison.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 in residence halls will be provided an isolation space.
In an Aug. 4 open letter to Chancellor Mnookin and the UW-Madison COVID-19 response team, a group of university workers expressed their concerns about the rise in COVID-19 cases in Dane County. They encouraged Mnookin to implement strategies that the University of California, Los Angeles has utilized such as improved accommodations for disabled workers and students, indoor air quality assessments, campus transit and indoor mask requirements, and more.
Chancellor Mnookin previously served as dean of the UCLA law school.
The group also described UW-Madison's decision to not require students and staff to test upon returning to campus this upcoming fall as a "dangerous choice."
"Our main concern is people with health needs," the letter reads. "We want those people to be protected as best we can."
Currently, UW-Madison has made no changes to campus operations this summer or fall. Students and staff are still not required to wear masks in classrooms. Events and gatherings affiliated or sponsored by the university are also not subject to any COVID-19 restrictions as of March 12.
Editor's note: This story was updated on August 5, 2022, at 2:02 p.m. to add information from the open letter to Chancellor Mnookin from university workers regarding the University of Wisconsin-Madison's COVID-19 response.