Parisi urges UW on-campus students home and go to online classes

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 2:53 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 3:34 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Saying he’s deeply concerned about the recent and dramatic spike in new COVID-19 cases in his county, Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi told the University of Wisconsin’s top brass they should send all of the students living in residence halls home for the rest of the semester and switch to online classes.

In an open letter to UW System President Tommy Thompson and UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Parisi blamed the university for a vast majority of the new cases plaguing the community. He points out that new cases “are running at least five times what they were in late August.”

“Given the nature of how Covid-19 spreads in group settings, reducing numbers in residence halls will help lower the risk of additional spread,” he argued.

Nearly three-quarters people who have tested positive in September have been linked to the university, the letter stated. According to Public Health Madison & Dane County’s COVID-19 dashboard, the number of cases since August 31 has jumped by nearly 1,000, from 5,532 to 6,497.

In addition to the concerns for the UW students and staff, Parisi goes on to address how these new cases could pose a risk to others. Or, as PHMDC stated Tuesday, when it released its latest figures relating to UW’s impact, the campus “is not an island” and its students, faculty, and staff are part of the community.

Going further than simply saying the students should return to their hometowns, Parisi maintains they should quarantine there for two weeks to protect those cities as well. He told UW officials that, even from home, those students can participate in their classes over the internet.

If Thompson and Blank decided against his recommendation, Parisi suggests they start adding more staff so they can get their students to comply with the public health recommendations of local officials and the University.

Parisi’s letter includes several more items he wants UW to consider. For starters, he tells them they need more on-campus quarantine facilities to house the increasing number of cases, asserting that telling infected individuals to go off campus perpetuates even greater spread.

He also wants the University to triple its number of contact tracers within the next 30 days. While Dane Co. is hiring more itself and plans to have 100 contact tracers employed for what Parisi described as “a challenging fall season for Covid,” all of the new cases attributed to UW has overwhelmed its current staff.

“Timely and effective contact tracing is critical for isolation,” he told them.

Finally, he told Thompson and Blank the university need to step up its testing capacity, saying a quarter of the tests the county provided Tuesday went to students and that’s not including the ones who were turned away because they couldn’t get an appointment. He estimated at the current rate, tests for students could cost the county $300,000.

Parisi wrapped up by reminding the system president and chancellor that it was their decision to go ahead with in-person classes and go against the recommendations of local and national experts. He acknowledged the work they and the rest of the university staff put into getting ready for the new semester. However, he contends that call has negatively affected the community and the public health system.

“Unfortunately as we have seen across this country and other parts of the globe, this virus willfully spreads whenever the opportunity presents,” he ended. "We are concerned the well-intentioned goal of having UW open and operating as close to normally as possible will result in opportunity for Covid-19 to spread in our community.

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