University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says students enrolling for the spring semester should expect continued restrictions on social gatherings and a mix of in-person and online classes due to COVID-19.
During an appearance on WPR's "The Morning Show," Blank discussed UW-Madison's COVID-19 response during the fall semester. She said in hindsight, administration could have done a better job laying out safety protocols and student expectations before the beginning of the semester and before students began arriving on campus in late August.
"And it turns out that, particularly among our students who were off-campus, many of them were back well before that," said Blank. "And we weren't doing as much messaging earlier about the health protocols and the importance of not bar hopping and gathering in large groups. And we should have started that sooner."
One week after UW-Madison started classes in September, Blank announced most classes were moving online for two weeks to slow an initial surge of students testing positive for COVID-19. Two of the campus' dormitories were quarantined with residents only getting two hours notice.
UW-La Crosse and UW-River Falls took similar measures soon after UW-Madison's announcement.
Despite news about coronavirus vaccines, Blank said she doesn't think restrictions on social gatherings, a mix of online and in-person classes, and facemask requirements will go away at UW-Madison anytime soon.
"We're not going to have large-scale vaccination in place until, at best, the end of the spring, the summer," Blank said. "So, we are planning for a spring semester that in many ways looks a lot like the fall."
But Blank said the university will be doing much more COVID-19 testing of students and employees than was done this fall. UW-Madison students are now home after the campus announced it would halt all in-person learning after Thanksgiving in order to prevent students from traveling to and from the university as coronaviruses spiked in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states.
"We now have the technologies that we will have in place by the middle of January to test our entire campus population twice a week if needed," said Blank. "And we are going to mandate that all of our students in the Madison area test twice a week, and then our staff and faculty test regularly, probably about once a week."
Other UW System campuses haven't yet released specific safety or testing plans for the spring semester.
Blank said she would like to see the entire UW-Madison campus community get vaccinated, but because current vaccines are possibly being approved under emergency authorizations by the Food and Drug Administration "it's going to be difficult to require vaccination."
"That said, I'm going to be first in line to get this, and we are all going to encourage everyone in our campus community to be vaccinated."
Blank was asked about whether historic revenue losses caused by housing and dining refunds last spring and the cancellation of many sporting and recreational events on campus last spring and this fall mean significant budget cuts are on the horizon for UW-Madison. Blank said she doesn't expect deep program or departmental cuts because of savings from required employee furloughs, spending reductions and the temporary nature of revenue losses this year.