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Chancellor Blank statement on Dane County Board of Supervisors

October 1, 2020

Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued the following statement Thursday, following the passage of a Dane County Board of Supervisors resolution calling for the university to move fully to remote instruction and close its residence halls.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison and local government officials share the same goal—limiting the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the health and well-being of students and the residents of Dane County.

Since the start of the academic year, we have implemented detailed health protocols, conducted more than 44,000 tests and taken strong actions to keep our community safe. The good news is that these health protocols have been very effective on campus.  No faculty or staff have become infected in classrooms or lab settings.

That said, our student numbers rose sharply a week after school opened. We immediately imposed two weeks of restricted activity before a gradual reopening with additional health controls in place. Campus cases now average 19 cases per day, with a positivity rate of 1.8 percent. This is a lower infection rate than in Dane County in general and far below the Wisconsin state average. A sizable percentage of all testing done in Dane County, is campus testing at UW.

It is not clear that in-person classes, or any shift away from them, will have a material impact on our situation. As other universities have seen, student residents of Madison will make their own choices about where to live and study, separate from the modality of their courses.  Our students want to be in Madison and almost all are here, whether their classes will be online or in-person.  We have worked hard to message the importance of health protocols to our students and most are following them. But some have not, particularly gathering off-campus, where we have less authority. There is evidence that bars regulated by the city and county have been linked to the spread of COVID-19.

Students are members of our community who live, work and vote here. They also support local retailers and restaurants and are important to the economy of Madison and Dane County.  Most would stay here, even if we were entirely online. Being on campus is particularly important for our lower income students who may not have easy internet connectivity or access to study spaces. Furthermore, should students leave now, some who have registered to vote here in Dane County may not vote.

Given the low case numbers at UW, our extensive testing and messaging regime, and our students’ commitment to being part of the Madison community, we disagree with calls for the university to move to virtual classes only and send students home.  The university, the city and the county need to work together to make sure that all people –students and non-students alike – follow public health protocols and remain healthy.