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Dane County official wants UW students ordered home

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Dane County Executive Joe Parisi demanded Wednesday that the University of Wisconsin-Madison immediately send all undergraduates living on campus home in an attempt to contain the coronavirus.

Colleges across the country have been grappling with outbreaks in recent weeks after choosing to return to in-person instruction. But UW System schools took a major financial hit after shutting down this spring and system President Tommy Thompson insisted on opening campuses this fall despite the warning signs.

Campus infections have been rising over the last month. According to UW-Madison data, 1,044 students and 26 employees have tested positive for the virus since Aug. 6.

Parisi sent Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Thompson a letter Wednesday saying that the county has reached a “critical juncture” in its fight against the virus. New cases in the county are running at least five times what they were in late August and since Sept. 1 nearly 75% of the county’s cases stem from UW-Madison, he said.

Parisi asked Blank and Thompson to force undergraduates living in on-campus dorms to return home for the rest of the semester and quarantine there for at least two weeks to avoid spreading the virus in their hometowns. He said they could continue their classes online.

He also asked Blank and Thompson to establish more on-campus quarantine facilities to house infected students rather than sending them back into group living situations; triple the number of UW-Madison contact tracers within the next month; and increase testing capacity on campus, saying he’s hearing reports that students can’t get tests because University Health Services was “booked up.”

Blank said in response that the university has arranged significant testing capacity, hired dozens of contact tracers with more to come, and set aside quarantine space for students as needed. She also noted the school earlier this week told undergrads to restrict their movements the next two weeks to essential activities. Blank said the school would continue to evaluate operations “in light of this changing situation.”

UW-Madison has also ordered members of nine fraternities and sororities to quarantine themselves.

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