As summer arrives in Madison, students struggle with enjoying it safely.

Some sunbathers on the Memorial Union Terrace generously interpreting social distancing guidelines. Photo: Jessica Gregory

Author: Jessica Gregory

The long-awaited warm weather has arrived in Dane County, exciting students and encouraging the start of a frightfully unparalleled summer where cautious choices are a necessity. 

Students are flocking outdoors to enjoy the refreshing heat after cold weather persisted into early May. While the freshmen clean out their dorms, upperclassmen students soak in the sun’s rays on Bascom Hill and by Lake Mendota. Lakeshore Path is busy with runners and bikers  while signs hold reminders to stay 6 feet apart from others. Quarantining indoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19 feels less of a chore with dreary weather for young, healthy students, but as summer approaches, Madison’s humid air and cool lakes will increasingly tempt the public.

The Center for Disease and Control urges citizens to limit in-person contact as the virus spreads most easily between people within six feet of each other. Researchers now believe that asymptomatic individuals may spread the virus. Seemingly healthy college students must operate with increased caution so that they help protect the most vulnerable. Outdoors, there are less shared surfaces to come in contact with, but social distancing is easily violated in concentrated areas like the Memorial Union Terrace and Lakeshore Path. Governor Evers does urge Wisconsin citizens to get outside but without breaking social distancing orders. Students are facing a tough dilemma: How do they enjoy their summers in Madison outdoors while abiding by health officials’ guidelines? 

Most sun-bathing students at the Memorial Union Terrace are without masks but are distanced from groups around them. Looking around, it appears that more people are gathered with their friends than alone, despite Dane County’s extension of the Safer At Home order that was struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme court on Wednesday. 

At the Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota, there is a sense of fallacious normalcy. The loud chatter of many voices fills the air, an unusual sound for those who have been grounded within their homes for over six weeks. Everyone appears to be happy. On the terrace, beneath the hot sun, they may even feel at ease amidst the chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Students should remain alert as their choices can harm themselves and others, even outdoors. 

Although COVID-19 causes downtown Madison to see extremely low numbers of people daily, on May’s warmest day so far, State Street is bustling with more pedestrians than it’s seen in the past weeks. Restaurants, according to the Safer At Home order, are only to serve take-out options. 

Businesses are beginning to see a Madison summer season unlike one they’ve ever experienced before. Where over ten food carts are usually lined, only one can be spotted on UW’s Library Mall. Known for its spring rolls, the Natural Juice food cart attracts a small line. The popular truck typically sees long lines of hungry students during lunch hours. 

On the Capitol lawn, students sit in small groups peering down onto a once lively State Street. It’s an ironic and bittersweet sight; the beautiful weather illuminates and displays the popular, but nearly barren, Madison street on a day that would typically attract large crowds. Daydreams of weekend morning farmers’ markets on Capitol square persist as if it’s an alternate reality. Students spend all school year anticipating the reward of summertime and thus should be mindful of public health goals as well as their own desires after finishing a tiresome semester. It’s up to the students to simultaneously enjoy their time off from academic obligations while maintaining their obligation to fight against the spread of COVID-19 as healthy, young individuals.

Temperatures for the coming week are predicted to keep rising in the 70s. The Madison community can expect more days of sun-bathing and cold take-out drinks as May closes and welcomes June’s arrival. 

A sign on the Southwest Commuter Path reminds passersby to practice social distancing. Photo: Jessica Gregory