UW-Madison details campus COVID-19 testing plan

    Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
    UW-Madison's on campus COVID-19 testing will be run by the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. (Photo by Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

    As UW-Madison prepares to welcome tens of thousands of students back to campus for its partially in-person fall semester, the school has announced its plans for campuswide COVID-19 testing Friday. 

    Because the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH) plays an important role in processing test results for patients across the state, the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (WVDL) will be responsible for on-campus testing. 

    WVDL will be operating under the WSLH clinical license to run more than 6,000 tests per week, according to a news release. Currently, the entire state is conducting about 14,000 tests per day

    Testing will be available for free for students, faculty and staff at multiple on-campus testing sites. Additionally, students and staff who live in campus housing will be regularly screened and a group of volunteers will be surveillance tested to help officials understand the prevalence of the virus on campus. 

    “This gives us an ability to see over time if things are changing,” Jonathan Temte, associate dean for public health and community engagement at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a statement. “It will help us determine when it might be necessary to suggest changes to campus operations.”

    The university is planning a mix of in-person and online classes while requiring anybody in campus buildings to wear a mask. Large lectures will take place online, while smaller classes and discussion groups are set to take place in the lecture halls to allow for more distance between students. 

    A UW press release acknowledged a recent spike of infections in Dane County, largely among people ages 20-29, and said officials were “poised to consider alternatives” to in-person classes.

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    Even with testing and contact tracing, the press release states that individuals will make or break the success of the plan. 

    “As (viral) activity comes on and students come back, that will stress the human diagnostic capacity,” Jake Baggott, associate vice chancellor and executive director of University Health Services, said in a statement. “That’s why we need to do our part … People’s individual actions contribute to our success and failure, and the more data we have, the more ability we have to reinforce that locally.”

    While officials put the onus on students, around 30,000 undergraduate students might do things like attend parties at off-campus parties. University spokeswoman Meredith McGlone says that this is a concern county-wide, not just on campus and that the school hopes its marketing and information campaigns will help. 

    “Social gatherings – particularly large gathering where participants are not wearing masks – are already a concern in Madison/Dane County. This is true not only for college students but for adults generally,” McGlone said in an email.

    “In terms of how we’ll respond if students may have been exposed during a gathering – first, as we announced today, they’ll have access to free on-campus testing to find out if they are infected (That’s in addition to the testing available through the county and through students’ local health providers, for those who have them),” she continued. “Second, University Health Services will conduct contact tracing just as Public Health Madison Dane County is already doing in similar situations, to identify anyone who attended the gathering and may have been exposed.”

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.