Wisconsin public universities get $32 million for testing as fall semester decisions take shape

    Testing
    Madison's community test site. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

    Wisconsin’s colleges and universities are preparing to bring students back to campus next month after ending the spring semester virtually due to COVID-19, but UW-Madison is the only public school with the in-house ability to administer COVID tests for large numbers of students on campus. 

    On Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers announced the state will send $32 million to the University of Wisconsin System to develop a testing program for the 12 other UW campuses. 

    The money will buy 34,000 tests for students exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, as well as 317,000 for students living in residence halls. 

    “Funding from the governor’s office and the federal government will help us provide the kind of testing we need at our universities when students return this fall,” said UW System President Tommy Thompson. “Students and families can be confident in this testing program.”

    The funding announcement comes as public and private universities are beginning to announce their fall semester plans. 

    UW-Madison released its plan to reopen in June but this week the state’s largest private university, Marquette, and UW-Eau Claire released their plans to bring students back to campus. 

    At Marquette, a university dashboard shows 92 students, faculty and staff have been infected with COVID-19 since March. A testing and contact tracing operation will be run out of the school’s clinic in conjunction with the Marquette Department of Clinical Laboratory Science and the Milwaukee Health Department.  

    First and second-year students have been lifted from residence requirements in the dorms and upperclassmen living in university-owned housing can be released from their leases. If a student tests positive, separate living arrangements for quarantine and isolation will be provided by the school. 

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    Students are being given a choice between in-person, hybrid and online classes and will be using an app to monitor symptoms. 

    “It is clear the fall 2020 semester will be unlike any other in our history,” Marquette President Dr. Michael R. Lovell and Provost, Dr. Kimo Ah Yun said in a statement. “To live the truest sense of cura personalis, we will all need to make sacrifices and change our behaviors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect our community. While the upcoming semester will surely look and feel different, one thing will always remain the same — our commitment to delivering a transformative Catholic, Jesuit education for every student.”

    At UW-Eau Claire, which doesn’t have the institutional muscle of a flagship such as UW-Madison, or a nearly $700 million endowment like Marquette, students and staff will also track symptoms on an app while testing will be paid for out of federal CARES funding. 

    Each student will also be given university-issued thermometers to monitor temperature, masks that will be required to be worn on campus and infected students will be quarantined in a designated residence hall. 

    The university says it is still working on finding a testing source for the 10,000 students on both of its campuses. 

    “As campuses across the UW System prepare to have students return to campus, it is critically important that every campus has the resources it needs to help keep our students safe,” Gov. Evers said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic brings great uncertainty and having robust testing efforts is one of the most important tools we have to help box in this virus and make sure our students stay healthy and safe.”

    Marquette’s undergraduate classes are set to begin Aug. 26 while UW System schools are set to start class on Sept. 2.

    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.