Push to block UW System of COVID policies could increase pandemic anxiety on campus

NOW: Push to block UW System of COVID policies could increase pandemic anxiety on campus

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A Republican lawmaker's plan to block the UW System from implementing COVID-19 protocols is a move that some health experts worry will only increase pandemic anxiety.

Next week, State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), who co-chairs the powerful legislative Administrative Rules Committee, will vote on a motion that would require UW System officials to get approval first before issuing any COVID-19 regulations such as mask-wearing and testing.

While many had hoped the pandemic was behind us, health experts say that's not the case as the delta variant is creating a spike in infections. It's resulting in a shift in COVID policies for local governments as many areas of the state are now strongly encouraging mask-wearing indoors.

However, UW campuses might not be able to respond to the pandemic under Nass' proposal that is up for a vote in committee on Tuesday.

UW Health Psychologist Shilagh Mirgain says the move is expected to increase pandemic anxiety but she notes we've been through this before and has confidence people can persevere.

"I really want people to remember their resilience, they've gotten through this for the last year and they have more coping strategies, they've been doing things that have worked well," said Mirgain.

Democratic State Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), who sits on the Administrative Rules Committee, called the GOP measure to restrict universities' powers "dangerous."

"It's very difficult to imagine what the rational is behind this other than to just try and make it as easy as possible for COVID to spread as possible," said Roys. "The idea they will have no public safety measure in place, that the university can do nothing, nothing to stop the spread -- I just think people can't wrap there head around it."

Sen. Nass argues too many organizations are "moving quickly to take advantage of the Delta-variant hysteria to enact excessive Covid-19 mandates," he said in a statement.

Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) agrees.

"This all boils down to health freedom," said Felzkowski. "I think people's health and how they choose to deal with it and what's best for them is between them and their doctor. I do not think we should be putting these restrictions."

UW System President Tommy Thompson fired back at the Republican effort in a statement: "Given my experience as a former United States Health and Human Services secretary, I know the biggest threat to in-person classes this fall would be actions that strip the UW System of the tools it has so successfully used to date to address outbreaks and reduce the spread of COVID-19."

Right now, no UW campuses have mandated vaccines for students, but some will require unvaccinated students to receive weekly COVID testing. Senator Nass says his proposal is also aimed at preventing possible future vaccine mandates on campus.

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