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Parisi renews call for UW-Madison to move to online instruction amid surge of COVID-19 cases

‘The time to act is now,' Parisi says
Published: Sep. 20, 2020 at 3:25 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi is once again urging the University of Wisconsin-Madison to move to online instruction in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases on campus, in Dane County and the state of Wisconsin.

Parisi’s call comes as the state of Wisconsin surpassed 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, following a week of record breaking single day totals. Parisi said the University System’s decision to hold in-person instruction is largely to blame for the increase in cases.

“This decision has greatly impacted our community and others, and has now catapulted Wisconsin into the top three states in the nation for increases in the rate of infection," Parisi said.

Parisi initially urged UW-Madison to send students home and hold classes virtually in early September. That same week, UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a directive instructing students to restrict in-person interactions and limit movement for only essential activities through Monday, Sept. 21.

Since then, UW-Madison announced they are investigating nearly 450 students and nine organizations for public health violations. Dean of Students Christina Olstad addressed the belief that students were “intentionally contracting COVID-19 to get over it."

UW System President Tommy Thompson attributed the increase in confirmed cases to an increase in testing, Parisi said. A closer look at the data, though, brought Parisi to a different conclusion.

“In the first two weeks of September, 24,790 people were tested for Covid-19 in Dane County,” Parisi said. “That compares to 32,588 tests done in the two weeks prior. That means there was a 24% DECLINE in the overall number of tests administered over the past two weeks while the total number of positive cases increased dramatically, bringing the rate of positivity from 125 per 100,000 residents to 425 per 100,000.”

Additionally, Parisi said reports of counties with the highest rates of infection reveal a correlation between positive tests and UW System Schools. Parisi said their actions are not representing what communities have come to know as the “Wisconsin Idea."

“This implicit acceptance that some people are just going to get sick - some seriously - spread this to friends and families, and people will experience long term cardiac illness, is entirely unacceptable when individuals have the ability to make decisions right now to prevent this from continuing," Parisi said. "The time to act is now.”

Six months into the pandemic, health officials remain focused on flattening the curve.

“Instead of things getting better, they’re getting worse," Jeffrey Potoff,  UW-Madison Health Chief Quality and Safety Officer said. “As we reach this milestone in cases I just think it’s a reminder about how real this pandemic is.”

Pothoff said as of right now a COVID vaccine is the only ticket to “return to normal.”

“I think one of the things that happens is as we go through this day after day, I think it starts to become a new normal," he said. "I think when it becomes our new normal, we start to forget the seriousness of what’s going on right now.”

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