‘It’s long past time to stop arguing’: UW-Madison chancellor releases statement on COVID-19 enforcement in off-campus areas

Becky Blank

MADISON, Wis. — University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a statement Monday regarding COVID-19 at the university and in off-campus areas throughout Madison.

The statement was released one day after Dane County Executive Joe Parisi cited UW-Madison’s reopening as the reason for the county’s spike in new cases.

“We have an incredible state University system with a rich progressive tradition, but nothing that is happening now exemplifies what we have come to know as the Wisconsin Idea,” Parisi said. “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. The time to act is now.”

Parisi also called on UW-Madison officials to transition to virtual instruction for the remainder of the semester.

In response, Blank said the university shares a common goal with the city and county as far as reducing the amount of cases in the community.

“The best way to accomplish this goal is not by issuing press releases calling for students to leave, but to partner in developing collaborative solutions for the benefit of all residents,” Blank said in the statement.

Blank added that a change to remote learning would have no effect on the students who live in apartments off campus.

“As we’ve said repeatedly, the university could close its residence halls and move to all online instruction and there will still be tens of thousands of students who would opt to honor their apartment leases and stay in Madison, as they did this past spring,” Blank said. “It’s wishful thinking to suggest otherwise.”

Blank also said students are important to the Madison community and that city and county leaders “can’t simply wish them away, nor should you.

“This is where students live, where they work, where they vote and their presence supports hundreds of local businesses and the Dane County economy.”

To date, UW-Madison has quarantined its two largest residence halls and implemented two weeks of online-only instruction. While some local leaders have asked for additional restrictions, the university claims infection numbers have seen a noticeable drop in the past week.

Over 36,000 tests have been conducted on campus since last month, with Blank saying the university’s testing of the campus population is “at a far higher proportion than the Dane County community at large.”

The university added it is taking precautions to make sure Badgers football does not negatively impact the numbers on campus.

Blank noted that safety measures on campus have not extended to certain businesses and off-campus areas in Madison.

“But you don’t need to look hard on social media to find a photo of long lines outside downtown bars or parties in large apartment buildings, or other places where 18- to 24-year-olds are gathering,” Blank said. “This comes despite our efforts to educate and enforce our health protocols through the hundreds of hours UW-Madison staff have spent visiting off campus spaces and discouraging large gatherings, and the hundreds of student misconduct investigations for actions on campus and off.”

UW-Madison said it does not have jurisdiction to stop these off-campus gatherings from happening.

“Until those agencies with enforcement authority take additional action, we shouldn’t expect to see a rapid decline in cases in Dane County,” Blank said.

The university has called on the Dane County Executive’s Office to “become a partner in promoting and enforcing safe behavior in off-campus spaces.

“It’s long past time to stop arguing,” Blank said. “We’d welcome a conversation on how we can work together to help our community.”

Wisconsin surpassed a lifetime total of 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases Sunday afternoon.