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Required COVID testing; what to expect this fall

August 18, 2021

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This message covers

  • New testing requirement for unvaccinated students and employees, effective August 30
  • What to expect the next several weeks
  • How the university is preparing
  • What you can do to stay healthy

Today, we’re announcing an expanded testing requirement for unvaccinated employees and students, and for those who are vaccinated but have not shared their proof of vaccination. Effective August 30, employees and students who have not shared proof of COVID-19 vaccination with UHS will be required to test weekly on campus. Those who are required to test weekly but fail to do so will be held accountable. Affected students and employees will receive a follow-up message with more details.

As the university has done throughout the pandemic, we’re adapting our approach as needed to respond to changes in COVID-19 activity. The continuing high rate of infection due to the delta variant makes this expanded testing requirement necessary. We continue to plan for a fall semester of in-person classes and other activity. The high levels of vaccination on campus, along with required masking and testing for those who are unvaccinated, should allow us to have a more normal semester than last fall.

We all know that it’s concerning and frustrating to see headlines about COVID-19 cases rising again. It can feel like we’re back where we were a year ago, which understandably can cause stress.

But there’s an important difference: we now have highly effective vaccines that protect against serious illness and hospitalization, and many people in our community are fully vaccinated. Vaccination is the key to defeating COVID-19.  

As we’ve done throughout the pandemic, UW–Madison is consulting with campus public health experts and closely monitoring conditions on campus and in the community.

Here’s what we expect to happen over the next several weeks.

  • We can expect to see a continued increase in positive cases, including some cases among vaccinated people, because the delta variant is more contagious than previous variants and some breakthrough is inevitable.
  • People who aren’t vaccinated will continue to experience higher rates of COVID-19 – about three times higher than vaccinated people, according to a recent study that came out. Unvaccinated adults are the most likely to experience severe outcomes. For vaccinated people, COVID-19 is much less severe and might feel similar to a cold or the flu.
  • Judging by what has happened in areas where the delta variant emerged earlier, we can expect cases to peak within a month or two and then quickly go down again.

How the university is preparing

While we continue to plan for a fall semester of in-person classes and other activity, we’re enhancing our public health measures to respond to increasing cases locally, in addition to the testing requirement described above.

  • We’ve brought back the requirement for everyone to wear masks indoors on campus. Masks help prevent healthy people from contracting the virus and infected people from spreading it.
  • On Tuesday, Dane County reimposed an indoor masking requirement effective Thursday, August 19 for all indoor locations, with limited exceptions.
  • We have seen strong participation in vaccinations – 89 percent of employees are fully vaccinated. And we expect that 80 percent or more of our students will be vaccinated. We are prepared to take additional steps on vaccination if appropriate, in coordination with UW System President Tommy Thompson and other System chancellors.

What you can do to stay healthy

  • If you’re not yet vaccinated, now is the time. Safe, effective vaccines are available at no cost to you at University Health Services. We urge every student and employee who is able to get vaccinated to do so and to upload a record of vaccination.
  • If your immune system is moderately to severely compromised and you already received two doses of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), seek a third dose. Beginning Monday, August 23, University Health Services will begin offering additional doses to immunocompromised students. Because the latest vaccine guidance for immunocompromised people involves complex health circumstances, employees should consult their health care provider about an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose.
  • If you are not immunocompromised and you received two doses of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), the federal government announced today that some individuals will be eligible for a booster shot beginning Sept. 20. The university is reviewing this announcement and will share more information as it becomes available.
  • Currently, there is no recommendation that individuals who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine get an additional dose of any COVID-19 vaccine, but there is ongoing investigation into whether this may be needed.

Finally, we’d like to share some lessons learned from earlier in the pandemic that can help us now.

Research on COVID-19 at UW–Madison in fall 2020 has found that infections spread primarily through higher-risk social activities, such as off-campus parties and bars, rather than through academic activities, like classroom instruction and research, where masks were required.

The best way to ensure an academic year with as much in-person activity and as little disruption as possible is to get vaccinated and to mask up indoors. And if you feel sick, get tested and stay home.

Thank you for taking these simple and important steps to protect yourself, your friends and family and the broader community. We’ll continue to keep you updated through campus messages and online at