Local health officials keeping tabs on Milwaukee universities after UW-Madison sees spike in cases

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Local health officials say they continue to keep a close eye on Milwaukee-area universities after an outbreak at UW-Madison resulted in classes going fully virtual and two dorms under quarantine.  

Milwaukee County epidemiologists say the 18 to 39 year old age group continues to grow rapidly for the most number of cases. In fact that age group has even now surpassed the 80 and older population in number of hospitalizations.

“Young people are congregating, often times in defiance of the rules that have been set forth by colleges or universities, but it’s not shocking since we’re talking about young people who feel that they’re invincible,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  

Mayor Barrett says while the city’s health department continues to communicate with Milwaukee universities, he does feel UW-Madison took the right course of action.  

“It’s premature at this point because I have not seen any data that leads me to conclude that we have to take those steps now, but if we see it we obviously are going to take those steps,” added Mayor Barrett.  

"That could change next week. We hope it doesn't, we know that back-to-school whether its college, high school, elementary school is something we haven't gone through before locally or across the country, so that's going to be a change for us, and we're going to have to monitor closely," said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director for Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.  

The UW-Milwaukee campus reported 19 new cases among students last week, so far 17 new student cases have been reported as of Thursday. Marquette University reported having 36 cases total between students and staff since Aug. 21.  

The UW-Madison campus has had a lot of cases,” said Darren Rausch, health director for the Greenfield Health Department. “We’re not currently there with UW-Milwaukee from what I know based on regional conversations with colleagues.” 

“Some of the fraternities and sororities and other after hours events are bringing students together and resulting in pretty significant transmission,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, UW Health chief quality officer and emergency medicine physician.  

Dr. Pothof says Madison students being quarantined in dorms is the best option at this point so the virus doesn’t spread to other areas of the state and country.  

“Students who are mildly symptomatic and have the disease, students who are asymptomatic but still spreading the disease, or don’t actually have anything yet but are incubating the disease and disperses them throughout our communities,” added Dr. Pothof.  

UW-Madison will go fully virtual for at least two weeks beginning Sept. 14. Dr. Pothof says the two weeks are a bare minimum.  

“I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility at all that that timeline gets extended until a time where it’s safer,” he says.  

Dr. Pothof says campuses should still be able to stay open if they are able to stay ahead of contact tracing, testing and isolating.  

“Contact tracing, testing, isolating and if they begin to start exceeding that capability, that’s when I think you’ll see campuses take these more drastic measures,” said Dr. Pothof.  

UW-Milwaukee says most of their students live off campus, so students who test positive are asked to recover at their home. Those living on campus that have tested positive are using quarantine housing, which currently has more than enough capacity.  

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