UW halts in-person classes and orders two dorms to quarantine after COVID-19 rates spike.

Students can make an appointment to be tested for COVID-19 on campus through their UHS account. Photo courtesy of Jessica Gregory.

Author: Jessica Gregory

Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced in an email that in-person classes will move online for at least two weeks while two freshman dorms are placed under a strict quarantine.

UW-Madison students sustained over a 20% positivity rate for coronavirus tests since Monday, prompting university and public health officials to take additional action.

Dorms Sellery and Witte are UW-Madison’s most populated dorms, both housing over 1,000 students. UW Housing says that a majority of positive cases in students living in on-campus housing are from these two dorms located in the Southeast side of campus near downtown. 

The lockdown for these dorms began Wednesday at 10 p.m. and will last until Sept. 23, 2020 at 8 a.m. Chancellor Blank’s email advises students to not return home at this time. 

Less than an hour after Witte and Sellery residents were notified, lines at Fresh, the nearest grocery store, grew out the door. Videos on social media are circulating of students rushing to stock up on food as the lockdown time closes in.

Until the lockdown is lifted, Witte and Sellery residents will be tested for COVID-19 onsite. There will be no congregating anywhere within the dorms and masks must be worn outside of residents’ rooms. 

Students received an email on Monday from the Chancellor asking for undergraduates to restrict all non-essential movements and interactions, excluding classes. 

Wednesday’s email retracted the university’s original statement to continue in-person classes, shutting them down for a minimum of two weeks starting Sept. 10, 2020. Both Monday and Wednesday’s messages report that no outbreaks or positive cases have been linked to in-person classes. 

Face-to-face academic instruction is being halted, rather, as a precautionary measure to protect students and staff.

Campus operations now have further alterations with communal study spaces and workout facilities closed. Dining services and the Wisconsin Union have exclusively carry-out and pick-up options. University Health Services are only available for emergency care by appointment.

Students’ concerns are valid as the announcement is hauntingly reminiscent of last spring’s semester when the university was to operate online instruction for two weeks but then moved the remainder of the semester online.

Third year student Natalie Zientek shares her unease as her dance classes return to remote learning.

“While I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the full college experience this year, going to my in-person classes was the only sense of normalcy I felt,” Zientek said. “It was my only motivator.”

Chancellor Blank acknowledges that she too had her optimistic outlook stifled.

“I share the disappointment and frustration of students and employees who had hoped we might enjoy these first few weeks of the academic year together. Before we started this semester, we knew that no plan would be risk-free in the current environment.”

To close, Chancellor Blank thanks those who have been adhering to COVID-19 health guidelines and reminds those who haven’t that their harmful actions impact the wider Madison community.

UW-Madison’s email to students Wednesday evening was delivered a few hours following Dane County’s request to send undergraduates living in dorms home. Read WKOW’s coverage with a quote from Dane County Executive Joe Parisi here.

WSUM will follow this story as developments emerge.