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7 in 10 new COVID-19 cases were UW students or staff, PHMDC reports

Published: Sep. 8, 2020 at 3:39 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - An overwhelming number of new COVID-19 cases in Dane Co. over the past week can be traced back to the University of Wisconsin, new numbers show.

At least 71 percent of the 901 people in the county who tested positive were UW students or members of its staff, Public Health Madison & Dane Co. reports. The agency’s numbers come a day after the university directed its students to restrict their in-person interactions and limit their movements to essential actions for the next two weeks.

The agency said it is “closely monitoring this recent spike.” It added that health officials will be closely tracking the total number of new cases and how they are spreading as well as how that increase affects the healthcare system. They will also be using it to determine how well PHMDC can handle contact tracing when there are more cases.

The UW-related increase could eventually lead to increased restrictions throughout Dane Co., the health agency notes. It points out that the campus “is not an island” and students, faculty, and staff are part of the community.

Campus leaders said they will make decisions based on positive test rate and new positive cases.

For now, health officials say, they haven’t seen much evidence of a spillover into the community at large, but they are continuing to track that spread as part of their contact tracing programs.

But, because the UW cases are considered part of Dane County’s total, the higher total numbers could push the daily average number of new cases to points where they could affect standards for what can and can’t be open. For example, for K-2 students to be allowed to continue attending in-person classes, one of the factors considered was that the county was averaging fewer than 54 cases per day over a 14 day period.

The more than 900 cases reported in past week puts the county well past that average. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those students will definitely be forced to stay home when PHMDC does its next assessment, however. In Tuesday’s report, they wrote they will also take into account considerations like the extent of the exposure and their contact tracing ability.

“Public Health staff will continue to closely monitor the data and update orders as appropriate,” it read.

Yushun Chen, owner of Petal and Poke on State Street, said his main customers are UW- Madison students and the spike in cases is concerning.

“When you’re drinking, you’re not wearing a mask and it’s very hard to keep that 6-feet social distance and I’m worried about business,” Chen said.

The business owner said it will take a community effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus and it’s important that everyone does their part.

While PHMDC can limit how classes are held for grade school and high school students, the agency explains it cannot put restrictions on UW. Health officials explain that they cannot enforce local orders on state agencies or the University of Madison because it is a public institution, when either is functioning within their official capacity.

Copyright 2020 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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