‘Decision to isolate students isn’t an easy one’: Health officials, UW, provide insight to dorm quarantine

MADISON, Wis. — Health officials, Madison’s mayor, and a UW Spokesperson are all offering their thoughts on the University’s decision to hold two residence halls, more than 2,200 students, in a two-week isolation period.

“The decision to isolate students isn’t an easy one,” said Christy Vogt, Health Education Coordinator for Public Health Madison Dane County. “Lots of people living in congregate living facilities will increase and potentially hasten spread of illness among this population, while returning home has the risk of introducing illness in other communities.”

In the past week, Dane County has added 1,281 new COVID cases. On Wednesday, the number of new cases was 456, a record. Public health officials say it’s believed up to 85% of those cases could be linked to students or staff at UW-Madison. 

While UW-Chancellor Rebecca Blank has not responded to requests for comment, today a university spokesperson is addressing the issue.

“In general, all residents are expected to abide by normal residence hall policies and rules, enforced by Housing staff,” wrote Senior Strategic Communications Advisor David Giroux in a written response. “In addition those in residence halls that have been quarantined are expected to follow the same public health guidelines that anyone in the community would impose upon themselves if someone in their family/household tested positive for Covid 19.”

Students were made to congregate outside the two residence halls Thursday afternoon while waiting for a meal to be delivered to them. Giroux says despite this, students have the freedom to leave.

“We want to be clear that we  implemented enhanced facilities access to address to a high number of positive cases based on the best available guidance from public health experts. Those same public health officials have also cautioned against travel, so, if students do go home, we hope they will follow the public health guidelines and continue their isolation/quarantine as directed,” he wrote.

“The impact on our community is obviously potentially large,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway during a press conference Thursday morning. “Students are a large population here in Madison, as well as faculty and staff. UW also has a large economic impact on Madison and these are things that we balance.”

Giroux says UW’s biggest concern is for the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and the broader community, though he says the financial impact is significant and growing.

“On the overall situation, we continue to monitor a number of factors and consult with state and local officials on the best strategies moving forward,” he wrote.