New data from Public Health Madison & Dane County revealed that the week of Sep. 22, COVID-19 cases on the University of Wisconsin campus made up 38% of Dane County’s total cases, a decrease from 65% the previous week.
Despite the recent decrease in COVID-19 cases on UW-Madison campus, it remains uncertain whether this improvement is merely a routine fluctuation or the result of adherence to on campus COVID-19 guidelines, PHMDC Public Health Supervisor and COVID-19 Data Team Lead Katarina Grande said.
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“While the number of cases that are affiliated with UW have been decreasing, the number of cases throughout the rest of the community have not,” Grande said. “It could be a situation where you have a large super-spreading event happen at the beginning of September, or you had [students moving into the] dorms, where there was significant spread. And, [with] household gatherings and parties, [there is] a lot of spread there.”
Grande said it is possible the occurrence of house parties and large gatherings on campus have decreased thanks to the quarantine measures put in place by the university. UW has been urging students and staff to follow the health and safety guidelines of the Smart Restart plan since the beginning of the school year, which include wearing masks, social distancing and self monitoring symptoms.
According to UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone, a Dane County public health order has prohibited large gatherings, and students found violating this order will be held accountable through university disciplinary action. This includes suspension for repeat violations.
UW freshman Camila Trimberger is confident in UW student’s ability to follow safety guidelines and said she feels safe living on campus in a residence hall.
“Everyone wears a mask whether it’s inside or in the courtyard and from what I can see, public areas like the bathroom and basement are cleaned pretty often,” Trimberger said. “I don’t think COVID-19 is a threat in this neck of campus.”
An email sent to UW students on Sep. 23 announced some classes will return to in person learning. Students affected by this change would be notified by their professors independently, according to the email. Grande said she does not know to what degree the transmission of the virus can be expected from a return to classroom settings.
“I think that other types of gatherings are more risky environments,” Grande said. “That said, when you have large numbers, or large percentages of community transmission any type of gathering is risky. So, it’s all part of the same system.”
PHMDC has no jurisdiction over UW, Grande said, so if cases were to rise on campus again, it is up to the university to evaluate the situation and act accordingly.