Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced in an email to University of Wisconsin students Wednesday that the quarantine on Sellery and Witte lifted today, and online classes will gradually begin to resume starting Sept. 26.
Blank said there will be a phased return to campus activities starting Sept. 26 — instructors will contact students to inform them when and if their class will return in-person. The Unions, libraries, dining and RecWell facilities will also begin opening up in limited capacity beginning Saturday.
In a virtual meeting with other campus administrators Wednesday, Blank said there will be a number of changes to campus operations as compared to before the two-week pause on campus activity.
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Blank said students in dorms will now be tested every week for COVID-19, instead of every two weeks. Since the start of the two-week dorm quarantine, the University has been able to expand their testing capacity — the University now has their own lab running that allows test results to be returned faster than before, Executive Director of University Health Services Jake Baggott said.
The University will be asking students in dorms to move into single rooms or into less densely populated dorms to reduce the spread in housing areas. Dorms will continue to restrict guests and limit the number of students who can gather in rooms and community spaces, Blank said.
“Let me be clear — if students do not feel they can comply with these critical public health behavior requirements, they should cancel their contracts now and receive a prorated refund,” Blank said.
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller said 550 students have cancelled their housing contracts since the beginning of the semester — many of which were students who chose not to move in at all prior to classes starting.
Students who choose to move out of the dorms will be tested before they leave and encouraged to isolate on campus if they test positive to reduce the spread of coronavirus to other communities, Baggot said.
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Heller said positivity rates in Sellery and Witte dorms have been decreasing.
“Positivity has come down significantly with each round [of testing], which is great news,” Heller said. “That doesn’t mean it’s license to go back to the way things were before. When we saw increasing positivity, we got there through limiting gatherings and the like. We need to keep that in place, but the positivity on the latest round is low.”
According to the UW Smart Restart COVID-19 tracking dashboard, as of Sept. 21, the seven-day average for new positive cases both on and off-campus was 84.3 people compared to 152.1 people Sept. 9, when the university first shut down in-person operations. The positivity rate for on-campus testing Sept. 20 was 5.7% compared to 12.8% Sept. 9, according to the dashboard.
Blank said the university will continue to quarantine dorms and limit in-person classes as needed, but hopes it is not necessary.
“I will note, quarantine is not a good option,” Blank said. “Our students don’t like it. We would prefer not to do it, but if we see dorms spiking and our testing shows that we’ve got numbers we think need to be dealt with, we will quarantine again.”