The University of Wisconsin-Madison will start to resume activity on campus Saturday after in-person instruction was paused for two weeks due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 during the first weeks of classes. Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement Wednesday morning that activity will be phased in as the university continues to track infections.
Some courses will resume with either in-person or hybrid instruction, according to the statement. Students enrolled in these courses will be contacted by their instructors no later than Friday.
In a call with reporters, Blank said on-campus instruction will likely be more limited than at the beginning of the semester, with a focus on classes that require specialized facilities or equipment.
"Some courses may start in-person immediately," Blank said. "I know we've got some faculty who are eager to get back into the classroom with their students, others may be delayed."
Departments and instructors will decide which courses will resume in-person and when, she said.
In another easing of restrictions on campus, mandatory quarantines in Sellery and Witte residence halls that were implemented two weeks ago were lifted as of Wednesday morning.
"Quarantine is not a good option," Blank said. "Our students don't like it, we would prefer not to do it, but if we see dorms spiking and our testing shows that we've got numbers that need to be dealt with, we will quarantine again, and we've been very clear about that with our students."
There were 290 positive cases reported just on Sept. 9, the day the university halted in-person instruction and implemented quarantines. All told, UW-Madison reported 1,070 positive cases of COVID-19 before stopping in-person classes.
Other steps being taken to make sure the virus does not spread throughout campus as rapidly as it did in early September, Blank's statement said. Among the steps being taken are more aggressive testing and contact tracing. Students in campus residence halls will be tested once a week, as opposed to every two weeks, and students and employees are required to respond to contact tracers or else be disciplined.
Officials are also working to reduce the concentration of students in campus residence halls. According to the statement, more students will be allowed to move into single-occupancy rooms, guests will not be allowed in the halls and the number of people allowed to congregate in common spaces will be limited.
Voluntary departure from the residence halls will be encouraged, although Blank clarified in a call with reporters that "we will try very hard to tell them they need to isolate on our campus before they go anywhere," if they have recently tested positive. Students who wish to return to the dorms after previously leaving must show a negative test result, Blank said.
Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller said about 550 students have canceled their housing contracts since the beginning of September, although a number of those were people who never moved in at all.
Blank also held out the possibility of emergency suspensions for students who are not following guidelines. The university is currently investigating 550 students and 11 student organizations for public health violations and about 20 students for emergency suspensions, said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor.
Blank called on Dane County officials to continue to enforce public health orders in bars and other off-campus spaces. Dane County does not allow indoor seating at bars, but does allow indoor seating at 25 percent capacity in restaurants.
Blank said there could be more changes as the semester continues.
"If we see another uptick in positive cases, I will not hesitate to take additional actions to limit the spread of the virus," she said.
The seven-day average of positive cases on campus has been falling over the past two weeks, according to the university's dashboard.