MADISON, Wis. — 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 university system's president said he wanted students to attend nearly all classes in person this fall.
The warning emailed to students, faculty and staff told of a “significant increase” in COVID-19 cases among students on and off campus. There were 112 new confirmed cases reported Wednesday and 99 more on Thursday, according to the email 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.
The concerns on campus came as the state's average of daily new cases continued to decline to its lowest level in more than five months. However, a 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.
Although 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 recreational 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. After Friday's news about the spike in cases, Thompson touted the university system's testing protocols as a way to identify cases early.
“When an issue was identified through testing at UW-Madison, I am pleased that they are engaging students to be vigilant in the keys to our success — masking, social distancing, and hand washing,” Thompson said in a statement. “Protecting the health and safety of our students, employees and our university communities is our top priority.”
There are roughly 43,000 students enrolled at UW-Madison. Most faculty and staff are working from home as nearly all classes remain virtual.
The seven-day average of new cases statewide as of Friday was at its lowest point since July and the positivity rate — how many people tested positive versus negative — was 2.9%, which was the lowest it had been since June. To date, more than 558,000 people in Wisconsin have tested positive for COVID-19 and 6,267 have died of the disease since the pandemic started.