After a two-week quarantine was placed on Witte and Sellery Residence Halls, some students chose to stay on campus while others chose to go home.
University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank directed students in Witte and Sellery into a two-week quarantine period. Blank also moved all UW classes to virtual instruction from Sept. 10 to Sept. 25 after the school reported back-to-back days with a COVID-19 positivity rate of nearly 20%.
Students said they were given about 90 minutes of notice before the lockdown. Freshman Emma Poll, who lives in Sellery, said the warning was abrupt and caused a rush to purchase food for the quarantine period.
“We didn’t receive an email until like 8:30 [p.m.], and they were like, you guys are going to be locked in at 10:00 [p.m.],” Poll said. “Everyone went rushing out of the dorms and ran to get food at Fresh Market.”
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Despite the short notice, there was a rapid increase in campus COVID-19 cases the week prior, with the seven-day average going from 2% to 8.4% in seven days. Blank’s lockdown came the same day Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called for UW to send all students home in a letter.
The lack of an earlier lockdown warning from the school led students to be unsure of what conditions a two-week lockdown would entail. Freshman Ellie Asher, who lives in Sellery, felt the immediate shift to lockdown created widespread stress among students.
“We were super annoyed at the last minute notification. Very uncertain, unsure and lost,” Asher said. “Everyone was feeling this collective energy of stress.”
All Witte and Sellery residents were tested for COVID-19 at the start of quarantine. According to Blank’s news release, testing centers were set up in the building’s basements, and all students who had not been tested during the week were required to test either Thursday or Friday.
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Freshman Kiran Jacob, who lives in Witte, said the testing and safety protocols created a weird feeling in the building. He was sent to the Wisconsin Union Hotel for isolation following a positive COVID-19 test.
“I was thinking to myself as the guy in a hazmat suit tested me that if I had told myself a year ago that I would be in this situation with people afraid to touch me I wouldn’t have believed it,” Jacob said. “It felt like I was in a different sort of world.”
Test results from the halls came back largely positive, with a 10% positivity rate in Witte and a 17% positivity rate in Sellery, according to Channel3000.
According to UW Housing, the dorm quarantine restricts students from leaving their residence hall buildings unless getting food from Gordon’s Market for 30 minutes during the allotted breakfast, lunch and dinner time slots. The school intended to distribute lunches within the Witte and Sellery halls at the start of quarantine, a setup they changed one day into the lockdown.
“We had to wait in line for our meals and they were of poor quality,” Jacob said. “I had a bag of pretzels, an orange, a turkey sandwich and a cookie for lunch.”
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Badger Barstool, a local affiliate of Barstool Sports, posted a video showing the line outside of Witte residence hall during mealtime. It displays students in close proximity to each other and currently has over 83,000 views.
Students are still able to move within their building for certain essential activities. Residents say the lockdown was not as bad as it could have been.
“We can go to the bathroom and study spaces with a mask,” Poll said. “There can be 10 people in these areas as long as they are socially distanced. We are allowed to go downstairs to take out the trash, do laundry or pick up delivered food.”
But, no visitors are allowed in dorm rooms and violations are punishable by “immediate removal from your residence hall and revocation of your Housing contract with no refund,” according to UW Housing.
Students covered their Witte and Sellery dorm windows in messages spelled out in sticky notes to show their feelings about the situation. The most common were “Help” or “Free Us.” One window displayed “Cellery,” a comparison between the lockdown and prison, while another stated “We are pissed.”
The inability to get fresh air or exercise is a leading complaint among students. Freshman Celia Giles, who lives in Witte, was most concerned about having limited access to the outdoors.
“The worst part was the fact that we couldn’t go outside and walk around,” Giles said. “That definitely took a toll on people’s well-being, like the fact that our one walk a day was going to Gordon’s.”
Many students, particularly those living in Wisconsin or neighboring states, avoided these conditions by returning home for the two-week quarantine period. UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said 5% — or about 319 — of all students have canceled their housing contracts since Sept. 1, according to Channel 3000 News.
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Freshman Jacob Breiling returned to his home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, 12 hours after entering quarantine in Witte. He said the choice to return home was almost obvious to him and other Wisconsin-based students.
“I’d rather be able to have freedom to move around than be locked inside of a dorm building,” Breiling said. “I just think the University is going to keep restricting things to the point where kids voluntarily go home then the university doesn’t look like the bad guy for sending everyone home.”
According to Blank’s recent letter to the campus community, the quarantine was lifted on Witte and Sellery Hall, and starting Sept. 26, campus resumed some in-person activities — but with more limitations than before. The email statement added they are working to reduce the number of students in residence halls and encouraging voluntary departures, as well as allowing more students to move to single rooms.
Giles feels quarantining Witte and Sellery was the right move and will prevent a larger campus outbreak. She added taking further action to send students home would not be a smart move.
“I think the quarantine will help,” Giles said. “It’s good that they contained it early on. I don’t think it is a good idea for UW to send kids home. It would create so many more outbreaks.”