Avoiding a COVID outbreak at UW-Madison: Doctors say the ball is in students’ court to act responsibly

Students say they've been seeing a lack of social distancing and a disregard of public health guidelines as many start to move back in to student housing

MADISON, Wis. — As students start to move back in to student housing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the upcoming school year, doctors are urging them to continue following public health guidelines.

The recent outbreak at UNC in North Carolina where 130 students tested positive for COVID-19 prompted the university to make abrupt changes to how they are proceeding with the upcoming school year. Doctor Jeff Pothof at UW Health says that’s the last thing he wants to see happen here.

“Can they step up to the plate and pull this off? We really need them to do the heavy lifting right now,” Pothof said.

For UW-Madison junior Liam Benson, following guidelines is something he says he’s been keeping up with, but acknowledges the frustrations that come with entering a school year in the middle of a pandemic.

“It’s certainly a little frustrating because I know everyone enjoys regular school and game day and all that kind of stuff,” Benson said. “I certainly try to do my part but it’s frustrating when people don’t.”
Benson said he’s seen other students disregard social distancing, not wear masks and continue to go out to parties. Freshman Willie Coffey said he’s been seeing the same thing.
“A little bit of both. I see some people taking it more seriously than others,” Coffey said.
Pothof is urging students to get on board with practicing public health safety guidelines to ensure an outbreak doesn’t happen on the UW-Madison campus.
“Although it’s true that younger people tend not to get as sick, it’s not a universal truth,” Pothof said. “They’re not immune from the disease. There will be college kids in that age bracket that get very sick. Some of them will have lifelong disabilities.”
Pothof said it’s great that the university has plans in place to try to prevent an outbreak, but it’s not entirely avoidable if students don’t do their part to help.
“That stuff is all great and it looks good on paper but the one variable that we don’t have control over is the personal responsibility of the students coming back,” he said.
“I think it’s hard for students to realize that sometimes,” Benson said. “It’s so fun to do that and party and stuff like that and it is so easy to just go out and do it.”
Benson said he’s expecting an outbreak to occur and is prepared for the worst. Coffey said if an outbreak were to happen, “I would try not to go to my in-person classes because I’m not trying to risk getting sick like that and putting my roommates in danger too.”