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UW-Madison chancellor to undergrads: “severely limit” in-person interactions as COVID-19 cases sharply rise

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MADISON (WKOW) -- One week into the fall semester, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank sent a letter to undergraduate students Monday calling on them to restrict their in-person interactions to "essential activities" only.

The directive came as both the raw COVID-19 case count and percentage of tests coming back positive among students has risen sharply over the last three days according to the school's dashboard.

Through Sunday, the university announced 149 positive tests among students. The percentage of tests coming back positive increased from 4.4 percent Thursday to 7.8 percent Sunday.

Blank ordered undergraduate students to limit their interactions to activities like classes, work, and taking meals to go. The restrictions the university announced Monday include:

  • Cancelling all in-person social events
  • Moving student meetings, with the exception of in-person and hybrid classes, to online only
  • Moving registered student organization (RSO) events to be online only
  • Closing RecWell facilities
  • Converting union dining facilities to carry-out only
  • No longer allowing any visitors in the residence halls

"We’ve reached the point where we need to quickly flatten the curve of infection, or we will lose the opportunity to have campus open to students this semester, which we know many students truly want," wrote Blank.

The restrictions took effect at 5:00 p.m. Monday and will remain in place for the next two weeks. Students on Monday largely expressed a desire to stay on campus.

"I'm definitely disappointed in the news 'cause it takes away from the college experience," said freshman Kaylie Humes. "But if this is the step we have to take to stay on campus, I'm willing to make the adjustment."

A frequent refrain from students on campus was a feeling the university knows it will inevitably close the residence halls and send students home; some expressed suspicion the university was waiting until after the September 11 tuition due date.

"It comes up pretty much every day and, I mean, we can't say for sure; we don't know everything," said freshman Benjamin Teske. "We don't get told everything but it's definitely not out of the realm of possibility."

Other students said they were more concerned with the immediate restrictions taking away amenities their tuition is supposed to cover. They also expressed frustration with other students going ahead with large gatherings, particularly off-campus. On Friday, the university ordered nine fraternities and sororities in quarantine.

"A lot of students, especially off-campus aren't paying attention and aren't following the rules and I think it's a huge issue," said freshman Abigail Broskowski. "I am disappointed that the gyms are closing and the dining halls and facilities that us as freshmen and all students are paying for 'cause we're still paying full price and I don't think that's right."

The Associated Students of Madison said in a letter Monday evening the chancellor's letter was a step in the right direction but added the directive did not go far enough.

"However, a lot more can be done to effectively contain the spread of COVID-19 on campus, such as moving to an all-virtual format, supporting student workers financially so they do not have to get other jobs, and including student voices in the decision-making process," the letter read.

While students on campus Monday acknowledged the risk of having the virus spread further on campus and into the greater Madison area, many freshmen lamented the idea of losing their first taste of the college experience after the pandemic already derailed their senior year of high school and graduation.

"My biggest concern is just going home," said freshman Alex Oeth. "I'm willing to do what it takes to stay on campus."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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