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COVID questions: elevators, staying informed, campus testing

August 27, 2020

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to

Q: When I’m in a public building and am given the choice of taking the stairs or an elevator, which one is the safest option? While elevators are confining, the amount of time you spend in close proximity to someone is short because of the rapid-transit nature of an elevator. As more people opt for the stairs, am I more at risk because of the increased traffic (and heavier breathing as they climb the stairs)?

A: Generally, if they are an option for you, stairs are recommended over elevators in public buildings. However, both options can be equally safe so long as you and others maintain physical distance, wear a face covering, and practice proper hand washing. Lapses in judgement tend to occur in doorways and similar bidirectional thruways.

Since you’re in a public building, look for posted signage for guidance. Floors may be marked to help you and others maintain proper physical distance from one another. Elevators should have posted limits indicating a reduced capacity. Some stairwells are more confining than others, but airflow in many public buildings has been adjusted to improve ventilation. When using stairs and corridors, keep right to promote physical distancing and minimizing contact with others.  Use personal touchless tools to press buttons and open doors. Once you reach your office or exit the building, wash or sanitize your hands.

– Ajay Sethi, Associate Professor, Population Health Sciences; Faculty Director, Master of Public Health Program

Q: Health information and guidance about COVID-19 has changed (and continues to) since we first learned about the virus in late 2019, not to mention all of the misinformation being spread on social media. What are the best ways to stay informed about the latest, accurate health findings and safety tips about COVID-19?

There is no doubt that the amount of information, both scientific and non-scientific, and guidance about COVID-19 has been overwhelming, for everyone. Peer-reviewed medical literature published in reputable journals along with systematic reviews and consensus statements put forth by well-recognized scientific and medical organizations are the best sources of health information. Going through primary sources of information is time-consuming and can require specialized knowledge, so it is helpful to rely on organizations whose mission is to sift through the science and translate it for the public.

While there is quite a bit of misinformation and even disinformation spread through social media, there is also a lot of valuable content. Follow local news organizations and newspapers that are in constant communication with experts at universities as well as local and state agencies. They are very active on social media and are dedicated to deliver new and accurate information to the public. Also, follow your local and state health department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and World Health Organization. If it helpful, create a separate social media account dedicated to following these organizations as well as local experts, leaders, and decision-makers.

In addition to the above, I also rely on Dear Pandemic, which was started by Dr. Malia Jones here at UW–Madison. Dear Pandemic is on Facebook and Twitter and are a group of ten scientists, researchers, and clinicians that tackle many commonly asked COVID-19 related questions for consumption by the general public. When searching the Internet, if a website feels like clickbait, it probably is. There are several website credibility checklists out there. A website with a .gov and .edu suffix or belonging to a reputable, apolitical organization that gets frequently updated and communicates facts and not opinions are good sources of information.

Finally, if you come across a news report on a surprising findings about a new research study, take pause and let things play out for a few days. Give experts a chance to debate, agree or refute the new findings. With time, a consensus will develop and you can decide how you to use that new information.

– Ajay Sethi, Associate Professor, Population Health Sciences; Faculty Director, Master of Public Health Program

Q: As a UW student returning to campus soon, where and when can I get tested for COVID-19? How often can I get tested?  

A: Testing is key to identifying infection and keeping it from spreading. There will be four on-campus testing site that are free to UW students, faculty and staff.

The on-site testing locations are part a three-part testing plan:

  • On-campus testing centers will be available to the entire campus community at the following locations:
    • Henry Mall
    • Fluno Center
    • Ogg Hall
    • Frank Holt Center
  • Required testing on a biweekly basis for those living and working in residence halls, including students and employees;
  • Routine surveillance testing. One part of this will involve volunteer cohorts consisting of faculty, staff, and graduate assistants from representative areas of campus to monitor for prevalence of the virus, including asymptomatic cases. These cohorts will include more than 1,000 individuals who will be tested weekly. We will also test 300-to-500 undergraduate students each week. Students will be chosen at random via email and will be offered incentives to get testing at one of the campus-based testing sites.

Learn more about UW–Madison’s testing and Smart Restart plans.

See more answers to COVID questions at Also, visit our COVID-19 impact site.