The Dane County Executive asked the University of Wisconsin to send home students living in the dorms on Wednesday, due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases attributed to the campus community.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called on UW to send home all students living in the residence halls or hire more staff to combat the rise in COVID-19 cases affiliated with student activities, according to a letter Parisi sent to the university this morning.

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Since Sept. 1, at least 74% of Dane County’s new positive cases have been connected to UW, according to Parisi’s letter. Parisi said 46 separate outbreaks are tied to the campus, causing the community to reach a “critical juncture” in its efforts to fight the spread of the illness.

“The rapid increase in positive cases over the past week comes after Dane County had dramatically lowered caseloads through aggressive public health orders aimed at pushing down numbers and rates of infection,” Parisi said in the letter. “We are an interconnected community… Given that, the UW’s experience with COVID-19 stands to have a profound effect on the health of the greater Dane County community.”

In light of the sharp increase in cases, Parisi asked UW in the letter to consider sending undergraduates in the residence halls home for the semester. Parisi said if UW declines to take this course of action, the county requests the university increase their staffing to encourage student compliance with local public health and UW directives in all community spaces.

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Additionally, Parisi called on UW to expand the number of quarantine spaces on campus, triple the number of contact tracers in the next thirty days and increase the testing capacity of the UW testing facilities.

“The University made the decision to proceed with holding classes this fall despite recommendations from local and national experts urging virtual only classes this semester,” Parisi said in the letter. “Given the pandemic, congregating
these students has significantly impacted the capacity of the public health system, local public health efforts, and may impact the health of our community.”

In a statement to The Badger Herald provided by UW Communications on behalf of UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank, the chancellor said she shares the concerns of Parisi for the health of the students and the county.

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Blank said it is the university’s goal to be a partner with local officials. Additionally, Blank noted the capacity of the UW testing system, which currently has available spots for members of the campus community to get tested any day.

“The university recently entered a two-week period of reduced activity for undergraduates, but recognizes that cases will continue to rise among students in the short term,” Blank said in the statement. “We will continue to evaluate our operations in light of this changing situation.”