Campus Responds to COVID-19

UW–Madison adapts to keep people safe for fall 2020.

Donovan Kron, a staff member with Facilities Planning and Management Space Management Department, places a seating location sticker on a seat back in a revised lecture classroom in Ingraham Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

UW staffer Donovan Kron places a seating-location sticker in an Ingraham Hall classroom. Bryce Richter

Although UW–Madison leaders employed a plan to offer both remote and safe, in-person learning experiences during the fall semester, it wasn’t without challenges. Within the first several days of the academic year, campus saw a rapid increase in positive COVID-19 test results among students — for which, UW officials note, there was no evidence linking transmission to in-person instruction. Leaders were quick to take action and communicate updates to campus and the surrounding area.

When the semester began on September 2, the UW had already launched a public, online dashboard that published students’ and employees’ COVID-19 test results — both on and off campus — on a daily basis. Positive cases at the time were relatively low, but as the week progressed, the number of positive test results rose among students.

On September 7, Chancellor Rebecca Blank called on undergraduates to severely restrict their in-person interactions and movements to only those that were essential. The UW also worked with Public Health Madison and Dane County to order a number of fraternity and sorority houses to quarantine. However, after two days passed with a positive test rate of at least 20 percent, Blank announced on September 9 that, for two weeks, the university would switch to all-online instruction, quarantine Sellery and Witte residence halls, and adjust some campus operations — such as closing all in-person study spaces. The UW then monitored case numbers and evaluated whether to reopen campus.

On September 23, at the conclusion of the two-week period, campus saw lowered case numbers as well as a reduced rate of infections. Blank lifted the quarantine on Sellery and Witte and announced that campus would begin to resume some in-person activity starting September 26, while continuing to track infections.

In consultation with public-health experts and shared governance, Blank noted campus would expand testing capacity and lessen turnaround time, as well as reduce the concentration of students in residence halls by encouraging voluntary departures and allowing more students to move into single rooms.

University staff and the UW–Madison Police Department would also continue to monitor off-campus activity and impose consequences — including removal from the university — for students violating county orders or the UW’s standards. At press time, Blank had also stated her hope for Dane County officials to assist in off-campus efforts.

“If we see another uptick in positive cases, I will not hesitate to take additional actions to limit the spread of the virus,” Blank wrote in her announcement. For more updates on the fall semester since On Wisconsin was printed, visit the UW’s COVID-19 Response website.

Published in the Winter 2020 issue

Tags: administration, COVID-19 pandemic, Health and medicine, Public service, Student life, Teaching and learning

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