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UW-Madison students urged to limit in-person contact for next 14 days

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As the number of positive COVID-19 cases among UW-Madison students continues to rise, campus leadership is directing all undergraduate students to severely limit their in-person interactions for the next 14 days.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote an open letter to students that was published on a university website, asking that undergraduates limit their exposure to other over the next 14 days.

As reasoning for the restrictions, Blank cited the sharp increase in COVID-19 case counts reported among students attending the university.

"With this letter, I am directing all undergraduate students to restrict their movements over the next two weeks in order to reverse the recent rise in COVID-19 cases," Blank wrote.

(CLICK TO SEE TODAY'S SMART RESTART DASHBOARD)

Of the 148 positive student tests reported today by the on-campus testing program, 37 are for students living in residence halls and 111 are for students living off campus. One employee also tested positive. The positive test rate for today’s on-campus student results is 7.8 percent; the 7-day average is 5.1 percent.

As of Sept. 7, there are 76 students in on-campus quarantine and 91 students in on-campus isolation. Read more about quarantine, isolation and testing follow-up procedures.

"The health and well being of our community is the top priority. While we want students to have the fullest Badger experience, we also have to act swiftly to reduce the spread of COVID for the safety of our community," the university wrote in it's dashboard update for Monday.

While Blank asked students to only leave their homes for a half-dozen reasons including attending classes, getting food and going to work.

Adding teeth to the request is a set of actions the university will undertake to limit the disease's spread.

The school had canceled all in-person social events, closed RecWell facilities banned visitors to residence halls and made union dining spaces carry-out only. Official student organizations will also have to meet online.

"If infections don’t fall, we will need to make more difficult decisions that significantly reduce our ability to have campus open to students," Blank wrote.

Read Blank's full letter below:

To our UW–Madison community,

With this letter, I am directing all undergraduate students to restrict their movements over the next two weeks in order to reverse the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.  Effective at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7, through 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21, I’m calling on all undergraduate students to severely limit in-person interaction and restrict their movement to that which is required for essential activities only.

I want to thank the many students who we know are following the public health guidelines and upholding the Badger Pledge by taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19: monitoring for symptoms, using face coverings and physical distancing, and limiting gatherings.

But 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.A growing number of COVID-19 cases have been detected, particularly among students living off-campus, and can be linked to situations where people did not wear face coverings or practice physical distancing. We see this reflected in the data, but it’s also apparent in social media posts and in conversations with students who have tested positive. Unfortunately, too many students have chosen to host or participate in social gatherings that seem to demonstrate a high disregard for the seriousness of this virus and the risk to our entire community.

•As you can see in our Dashboard report, the total number of student cases has grown over each of the last five days. The rise in the positive percentage of total tests indicates this increase is not due solely to an increase in testing.

•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.

While some increase was expected as testing expanded and students returned to campus, the growing number of infected individuals suggests the virus is starting to spread more rapidly.

Given this, I’m directing all undergraduates to severely limit your in-person interactions for the next two weeks, only leaving your residence for the following essential activities:Participating in academic activities including classes, studying or research; in-person classes will continue and study spaces will remain open; there is no evidence of virus transmission in these activities

•Receiving a COVID-19 test or other medical care

•Purchasing food

•Going to your on- or off-campus job

•Engaging in an individual outdoor activity, such as running or walking

•Attending a religious observance

The university is taking the following actions to support this two-week effort (this is not an exhaustive list):All in-person social events are cancelled.

•All other student meetings, with the exception of in-person and hybrid classes, should be held online only

•All registered student organization (RSO) events will be online only

•All RecWell facilities will be closed during this time period

•Union dining facilities will be carry-out only

•No visitors will be allowed in the residence halls

In particular, I am asking all undergraduates to avoid social gatherings.  These are the major cause of the spread we have seen.

Note that these restrictions do not apply to graduate students, faculty or staff members.   The good news is that we see very little evidence of infection among these populations.  In the few instances where we have seen cases, we do not have evidence that infection occurred through on-campus activities.

During this time, we expect all students and employees will continue to follow the Badger Pledge and Smart Restart campus health protocols, including:Wear a face covering wherever you go, unless you have an accommodation. While we have had a requirement for face coverings indoors, we are now requiring face coverings outdoors as well unless you are engaging in individual exercise.

•Practice physical distancing of 6 feet or greater, on and off campus, inside and outside and even while wearing a face covering

•Do not attend gatherings of any type

•Respond in timely way to phone calls about contact tracing and be truthful in your responses.

•Monitor symptoms via the Health Screen tool

•Delay all non-essential travel

As we have shared previously, we will continue to hold students accountable for their actions on and off campus, up to and including emergency suspension. Members of the community can report unsafe behavior.

You might be asking why you should comply with this request. I have heard from many students that they want to be on campus, even though this is necessarily a different and more distanced semester.  Our seniors want to complete their year without going home.  Our freshmen want a college experience, not a return to their high school days.  Only a serious recommitment to public health protocols by our whole community will make this possible. If infections don’t fall, we will need to make more difficult decisions that significantly reduce our ability to have campus open to students.

I recognize that the actions I am requesting of our undergraduate students are significant.  This adds another layer of uncertainty to the stress they, and all of us have been feeling.  But we must reduce infections among our students to ensure that they stay healthy, and to protect the health of faculty and staff as well as those in our Madison community.

This virus cannot be controlled without each of us modifying our normal behavior.  Until there is a vaccine, we must behave in a way that recognizes the threat that it poses.

I thank our students, faculty and staff for their continued hard work and trust.  I particularly thank those many, many students whose behavior has been exemplary and hope that more will join them in these next two weeks.  Please protect yourself and others. If you have questions, email smartrestart@vc.wisc.edu.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank

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WKOW

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