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Capital City Sunday: UW System reopening plans, ballot harvesting & Asymptomatic spread of COVID-19

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The University of Wisconsin System officially announced students can head back to campus for the fall 2020 semester for in-person and online instruction.

The announcement includes all UW campuses, including UW-Madison. In order to reopen campuses safely, the UW System unveiled a series of recommendations from its Plan Ahead Team which focused on public health, personal protection equipment, and facility modifications.

UW System Vice President Richard Cramer tells 27 News masks won’t be required to wear on campus but they will be recommending students and staff to wear them. Class sizes will be determined by each University Cramer said they will use a "hybrid" approach with some face to face courses and others online. 

“Some classes may be in a larger room with the same number of students as in the past but more space between the students to promote social distancing,” said Cramer. “Others may be a hybrid mix, some students being in person in the room, others attending remotely.”

In the recommendations provided by the Plan Ahead Team, courses with an enrollment of 50 or more "should be moved online" and some classes may be moved to the weekend to optimize the use of classrooms. 

As for international students, Cramer said there’s “no concerns” about having them return to campus, a stark difference in tone from UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

In a blog post from May 18th, Blank said some students won't be able to return to campus “some of these will be international students.”

The recommendations do not include testing and tracing, a subject still under review.

"It's an area that's been evolving very rapidly, and individual institutions are talking to their local public health officials about options," said Cramer.

As for UW Athletics, officials declined to say if and when sports will resume and instead said they are following recommendations from the NCAA.

BALLOT HARVESTING

There's another challenge to our elections which could lead to another lawsuit ahead of November.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty submitted a petition to the state election officials asking them to clarify the rules on ballot harvesting, a group of people who gather absentee ballots from voters and return them to their local clerk.

W.I.L.L President Rick Esenberg said they want clarification on state law on whether or not ballot harvesting is legal. They believe the law means a voter must requests and absentee ballot and return it themselves.

"The concern we have is the use of partisan operative to collect these ballots from people because there are too many things that can go wrong," said Esenberg.

Ballot harvesting came to light after a Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina was charged with election fraud claiming he was apart of a group that illegally collected ballots and filled them out. Election officials ultimately did not release the results and ordered a new vote.

"We shouldn't have Republican and Democrat operatives engage in the administration of our absentee ballot systems particularly as we move towards more absentee balloting this fall," said Esenberg.

The Wisconsin Election Commission said the state does not ban ballot harvesting and whether or not the members will agree on new rules is up in the air.

ASYMPTOMATIC COVID-19 CASES

Health care professionals are sounding the alarm after they said the World Health Organization issued misleading comments about who can spread COVID-19.

On Monday, WHO suggested asymptomatic people “rarely” spread the virus.

"From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual," said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, a top leader with the World Health Organization.

A day later Van Kerkhove clarified her statements, saying the statement was based on a few “small studies” that did show people without symptoms rarely passed the virus to others. She also explained what appeared to be asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 often turn out to be cases of mild disease.

Now state health officials worry WHO’s statements caused confusion and as many people are questioning what asymptomatic means. Dr. James Conway with the UW School of Medicine and Pubilc Health called the confusion unfortunate.

"There's plenty of evidence now there are asymptomatic infections and when you look at the U.S. Navy ships outbreak where at least a 5th of them had no symptoms," said Conway.

Last month, President Trump threatened to defund the World Health Organization and Cramer said even though the organization is causing trust issues by issuing misleading information, he believes it could introduce more chaos into the current situation.

"I think a threat to defend would destabilize a fragile situation," he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said while W.H.O. is "imperfect" it's still needed and can "correct some of the missteps of the past."

Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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