A More Familiar Fall Semester

With vaccination rates high, UW–Madison plans for regular operations.

Pedestrians walk through Library Mall in the Autumn

In-person learning will predominate, though campus is closely monitoring the situation. Jeff Miller

Thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine, UW–Madison is hoping to return to residential campus life after a year and a half of largely remote operations. In late June, Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced plans for the fall 2021 semester that included most classes and activities resuming in person.

“While we continue to monitor the situation closely, the growing medical evidence on the effectiveness of vaccination and the high share of vaccinated individuals in our community give us confidence that we can move ahead with plans to resume more typical campus operations,” Blank wrote in a message to faculty and staff.

Nearly 80 percent of eligible individuals in Dane County had received at least one dose of the vaccine at the time of the June announcement — one of the highest rates in the country. UW–Madison is not requiring vaccination, per UW System policy, but it continues to offer the vaccine at no cost to students and staff, and it’s aiming for at least 80 percent of the student population to be vaccinated by the start of classes.

“All of the medical evidence shows that vaccinated individuals are unlikely to become infected with COVID-19, and if they do, in most cases the illness is mild,” Blank wrote.

The university continues to offer free COVID-19 testing, but as of press time, it’s no longer required for employees and students who are vaccinated or living off campus. Blank has indicated that additional testing requirements could be reinstituted.

Over the summer, indoor campus spaces — which had been reconfigured to promote physical distancing — were returned to prior setups with normal capacity.

In early August, with a national surge of the more infectious Delta variant, the UW reinstated its indoor mask mandate. As of press time, the university was reviewing other policies and monitoring a motion by the state legislature to oversee all COVID-19 restrictions on UW System campuses.

The plan has been for in-person learning to look much more like fall 2019 (96 percent in-person courses) than fall 2020 (19 percent). The campus workforce, some of which had been working remotely since March 2020, started to return to campus in August.

UW athletics also announced plans to reopen Camp Randall Stadium and other venues for fall sporting events. “We’ve missed the energy of our fans so much,” said UW athletic director Chris McIntosh ’04, MS’19. “I’m ecstatic for our fans, our student-athletes, and our staff.”

For the most up-to-date information on the university’s fall plans, visit covidresponse.wisc.edu.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story erroneously stated that the UW was reviewing its policy on capacity limits. The university was reviewing its policy on testing and now requires unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff to test weekly.

Published in the Fall 2021 issue

Tags: administration, COVID-19, Student life

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