Universities across Wisconsin drew up a variety protocols to combat COVID-19 on campus as classes resume for the semester and the schools of the University of Wisconsin System face the same challenge.
To combat COVID-19 through the start of spring semester, UW-Madison adopted two major enhancements to ensure the safety of the campus community. The university adopted expanded testing requirements and a new app — Safer Badgers — according to the UW-Madison COVID-19 Response site.
The recent introduction of the Safer Badgers app provides proof of students’ recent negative test results and the Badger Badge within the app must be shown in order for students to access campus facilities and services beginning February 10, according to the UW-Madison COVID-19 Response site.
UW-Madison Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori Reesor said in a media briefing that student voices and health experts have influenced the university’s COVID-19 protocols and will continue to be present as they refine the rest of the semester.
The new COVID-19 program will expand the frequency of testing for students, faculty and staff. Undergraduates are asked to test twice per week, regardless of whether they have in-person courses or spend time on campus. Graduate students, faculty and staff who will be on campus are asked to test once a week, UW-Madison Associate Vice Chancellor and Executive Director of University Health Services Jake Baggot said in a media briefing last week.
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“The idea is to identify individuals who might be asymptomatic carriers before they unknowingly spread the virus,” Baggot said. “What we learned from last fall is that the more frequent testing that we have and the more comprehensive it is, the more likely we will identify causes that are developing more quickly.”
Baggot said one of the challenges in controlling the spread of the virus last fall was the low capacity of testing and technology available early on. The new testing strategy modeled after the University of Illinois increases the university’s testing capacity.
Last year, UW-Madison did about 12,000 tests per week. The new saliva-based testing protocol will add an additional 70,000 tests per week, Baggot said.
“We do believe this will have a positive effect and when you look at where the strategy has been used elsewhere, such as Illinois, you’ll see that the surge was more modest and more quickly brought under control,” Baggot said.
The UW System serves as a statewide network between public universities. The purpose of the system is to work as an academic, cultural and economic resource for the state, county and world, according to the UW System website.
The 13 universities within the UW System received guidance and direction for COVID-19 protocols in the spring semester, UW System Director of Media Relations Mark Pitsch said in an email statement.
“UW System and the universities are in constant contact regarding this response,” Pitsch said. “This aggressive testing program, along with our mask mandate, social distancing, and handwashing, is building a culture of responsibility among our students as well as our faculty and staff.”
Although the UW System makes recommendations to its represented campuses, each university chooses its own tactics to control the spread of COVID-19. Systematic testing within Wisconsin public universities is provided by UW System resources, Director of Clinical Services at the Norris Health Center at UW-Milwaukee Aamir Siddiqi said.
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Representatives from all schools within the UW System participate in weekly collaborative meetings. Both system-wide meetings and clinical discussions between health directors collaborate once a week, Siddiqi said.
“We are able to consult each other, learn from each other and share our results together in a collaborative fashion,” Siddiqi said. “Now, Madison sometimes does it a little different but the rest of the UW System schools are using similar testing strategies.”
UW-Milwaukee’s COVID-19 protocols this spring align with the UW System testing requirements and recommended protocols. The university requires all students living in residence halls to be tested weekly, while students frequenting campus at least once a week must be tested every other week, according to the UW-Milwaukee COVID-19 resource site.
UW-Milwaukee is utilizing antigen rapid testing to protect their campus from COVID-19. The nasal swab tests are collected by a healthcare professional and sent for PCR confirmation testing at the Student Health Center or the Milwaukee City Health Lab, Siddiqi said.
“We do feel that these measures work,” Siddiqi said. “We constantly have the message of safer protocols and testing going around campus.”
UW-Eau Claire requires students living in university housing to take an antigen test once a week. Off-campus students must be tested every other week, according to the UW-Eau Claire COVID-19 resource site.
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration at UW-Eau Claire Grace Crickette said some employees and students do more testing depending on the job or activities they have on campus.
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UW-Eau Claire emphasizes available testing for those seeking it. If people want to be tested more often, they have the opportunity to do so, Crickette said. The university offers the minimum amount of testing and offers additional testing at student or faculty requests.
“We want to make sure we have that baseline but have that flexibility so people know that they feel comfortable getting enough testing,” Crickette said. “Not only are we helping our students and staff but we are also helping our community with testing.”
UW-Eau Claire is one of three campuses chosen to continue the federal Binax testing program. The university uses the nasal swabs and has experienced a high rate of accuracy, efficiency and comfort in testing, Crickette said.
UW-Eau Claire can process 1,200 tests per day. The university uses the Blugold app to track testing, symptoms and provide COVID-19 guidance to students and faculty.
“I think we are doing all the same things as the other schools,” Crickette said. “At the end of the day, I attribute our low percentage of positive tests to the culture of caring that the Blugolds have.”