Wisconsin college campuses grapple with impact of COVID-19 on start of academic year

NOW: Wisconsin college campuses grapple with impact of COVID-19 on start of academic year

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Updated: 6:02 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Classes recently began for colleges across the state but already the impact of COVID-19 is putting the future of the semester at some campuses in doubt.

UW-Madison has faced a turbulent start to the semester with the university ordering students of nine fraternities and sororities to quarantine because of cases connected to those houses last week, only to have Chancellor Blank this week call on all undergraduates to limit in-person activities because of a recent spike in cases.

“The testing statistics from the last few days have not been good and threaten our ability to continue a semester where campus is open to students,” Blank said in a statement. “Given this, I’m directing all undergraduates to severely limit your in-person interactions for the next two weeks, only leaving your residence for […] essential activities.”

But students on campus believe the university should reconsider its plans for holding in-person instruction.

Leaders of the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) sent letter to administrators calling on a switch to all online classes with some exceptions because of safety concerns around COVID-19.

“You can point the finger at students all you want and blame them,” Matthew Mitnick, a junior and ASM chair, told CBS 58 in an interview. “But when the university is encouraging an environment where you’re living in a dorm with a roommate on a floor with dozens of other people, the only place to eat is a dining hall, to take a class you need to graduate you have to go to an in-person lecture, it’s an impossible choice for so many people.”

Mitnick is hopeful a discussion with university leadership later this week will yield results in addressing concerns.

Since July 28, 978 students (both on and off-campus) have tested positive for COVID-19 on UW-Madison’s campus, according to its Smart Restart dashboard. 26 employees of the university have also tested positive. The seven-day average positivity rate for on-campus testing is at 5.7 percent.

In Milwaukee, the issue is not as turbulent, but there are signs of the situation potentially worsening.

“We have seen a number of videos of parties and things that had occurred over the weekend,” Milwaukee County Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said in a briefing Tuesday. “We again just want to appeal to our community that we all have a responsibility here.”

Kowalik referred to complaints by students and community members of some college campuses and the behavior of some students on those campuses, but Kowalik did not directly say which institutions were involved saying health officials were following up and holding discussions with administrators.

Still, officials want to make it clear those activities put lives at risk.

“The message for students wanting to attend large parties is don’t do it,” UW-Milwaukee Police Chief Joseph LeMire said. “That has to be the message. The gathering limits are out there, we abide by the same gathering limits.”

Last week, UW-Milwaukee published a video featuring UWM Student Association President Emma Mae Weber encouraging students to take necessary precautions around campus in order to maintain a safe environment.

For now, campus officials say there is no need to put in place restrictions like those at UW-Madison.

“We have lots of options, but don’t current have a plan in place because we’re monitoring the data,” UW-Milwaukee Chief Student Affairs Officer Kelly Hagg said.

So far, UW-Milwaukee sits at 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on its campus.

You can find the COVID-19 dashboards for universities here:

UW-Madison: https://smartrestart.wisc.edu/dashboard/

UW-Milwaukee: https://uwm.edu/coronavirus/dashboard/

Marquette University: https://www.marquette.edu/coronavirus/dashboard.php

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Posted: 5:02 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is ordering undergraduate students to limit their movements for the next two weeks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank's order comes as cases among students have been rising. From now through Sept. 21, all student gyms and recreational facilities will be closed, dining halls will offer carry-out only and visitors will not be allowed in dorms.

The university reported Monday that 148 UW-Madison students and one employee had tested positive for COVID-19. Among the students testing positive, 37 live in residence halls and 111 live off campus. 

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