The University of Wisconsin-Madison warned of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases Friday, a day after a more contagious variant of the virus was detected in the county and the UW president said he wanted students to attend nearly all classes in person this fall.
The email told of a “significant increase” in COVID-19 cases among students on and off campus. There were 112 confirmed cases reported Wednesday and 99 more on Thursday, according to the message from Jake Baggott, the head of University Health Services.
“Equally concerning, contact tracing suggests that many of the students who have tested positive had attended gatherings, sometimes without wearing masks,” Baggott said.
The seven-day average of new cases both on and off campus was up 13.2%, according to the UW dashboard.
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The concerns on campus came as the state average of new cases continued to decline to its lowest level in more than five months. However, the more contagious strain of the coronavirus has been detected across the state, most recently in Dane County, leading to heightened concerns from health officials and reminders to remain vigilant.
While no immediate mitigation steps were being taken on campus in Madison, Baggott said the university was preparing to take action if necessary. He said that could include limiting access to or temporarily closing recreation facilities; placing residence halls under quarantine; increasing testing frequency for students off campus; and directing students to stay at home except for attending class and work.
The news came after UW President Tommy Thompson said he had directed chancellors to ensure that students at every campus could attend at least 75% of classes in person this fall. Thompson said the system’s coronavirus testing protocols, social distancing and masks had kept COVID-19 infection rates low.
There are roughly 43,000 students enrolled at UW-Madison. Most faculty and staff are working from home as nearly all classes remain virtual.