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UW-Madison Temporarily Moves Classes Online After Spike In Positive COVID-19 Tests

Decision To Pause In-Person Learning, Quarantine 2 Residence Halls Comes After One Week Of Classes

Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. S Kaya (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is moving all classes online and quarantining two residence halls due to a spike in positive cases of COVID-19, just one week after students returned to campus.

In a press release sent at about 8 p.m. Wednesday, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said all in-person classes will be paused from Thursday, Sept. 10 through Sept. 25. All classes through Friday this week will be canceled and will resume online on Monday, Sept. 14.

Blank said the decision to temporarily move classes online was made in consultation with UW System administration, Public Health Madison and Dane County and Gov. Tony Evers.

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“As we saw at the end of last week, these numbers reflect a rapid rise in infection among students living off campus, but the latest numbers also show a sharp increase in certain residence halls,” Blank said in the news release. “We will not contain this spread without significant additional action.”

The chancellor said campus contact tracing hasn’t revealed evidence that COVID-19 is being transmitted from person to person during in-person classes. In previous announcements, Blank said positives have been traced to off-campus gatherings.

All told, UW-Madison has reported 1,070 positive cases of COVID-19.

All students living in UW-Madison’s Sellery and Witte dormitories are being directed to “quarantine in place” for the next two weeks, according to Blank. All residents in the buildings are required to be tested for COVID-19 on Thursday and Friday unless they’ve already done so.

She said the decision “follows the precedent set by several other universities that have paused in-person instruction for two weeks in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

UW System President Tommy Thompson issued a statement Wednesday night in support of Blank’s decision to pause in-person classes.

“We will continue to remain in close contact with officials at UW-Madison along with local, state and national health experts,” said Thompson. “Students, faculty and staff must be vigilant to combat this virus. These tactics have proven effective at other universities.”

On Aug. 18, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, also temporarily moved its classes online after just one week of classes. On Wednesday, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university’s president, said new cases were declining as the school moved back to in-person learning.

Thompson noted that it wasn’t a surprise that substantial testing on UW campuses has generated positive tests and the 12 other UW universities face “different circumstances” and are continuing with in-person classes.

The UW System on Wednesday released its first daily report of COVID-19 test results for all system campuses. According to the document, UW-Platteville had a 24.5 percent positive rate. Platteville had 24 positive cases out of 98 total tests. UW-Whitewater had a positive rate of 14.3 percent, with 45 positives out of 315 total tests.

UW-Madison’s decision to pause in-person classes for two weeks came just after Dane County Executive Joe Parisi sent a letter to UW-Madison administrators urging them to send students living in residence halls home following a surge of COVID-19 positives on campus. He said that since Sept. 1, nearly three-quarters of the county’s new positive cases came from the university. Parisi said the rate of infection was overwhelming UW-Madison contact tracers, which could place additional strain on the county’s health department staff.

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