The New Normal

COVID-19 cases rise in Wisconsin universities

Carter Uslabar, Editor in Chief

The staff of two UW Oshkosh campus residence halls was quarantined after a staff member’s coronavirus test result came back positive, although later testing produced a negative result.

The Stewart and Evans Halls’ staff received a GroupMe message on Sept. 7 instructing them to quarantine in place until further notice.

The individual who first tested positive for the coronavirus through the rapid-antigen testing returned to receive an

Juliana Kahrs

additional PCR test, which proved negative.

Juliana Kahrs, UWO’s assistant director of health promotion and COVID response project coordinator, said the PCR tests are sent out to the

state lab for analysis, which creates a delay in the receiving the results.

“Before and after completing the PCR test (the same or following day), this individual was instructed to self-isolate for a period of time,” Kahrs said. “If the individual never had symptoms, this isolation time period is at least 10 days after the test date.”

According to the UWO coronavirus policy, which was confirmed by the Winnebago County Health Department and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, anyone who contact tracers identify as close contacts to the person tested are notified of their need to quarantine for at least 14 days from the last day of close contact.

The individuals of the two freshmen dorms were told they would not be leading orientation for their residents. They were later informed they must relocate to on-campus quarantine facilities or leave campus and go home.

While the PCR test result came back negative, the individuals of the two residence halls were among the first to experience an on-campus quarantine, and were assigned to individual rooms in South Gruenhagen, which is one of UWO’s two on-campus quarantine or isolation facilities. Each individual was also assigned a specific toilet stall, shower stall and sink to use for the duration of the quarantine.

A residence hall staff member shares a Snapchat showing the gift bags Stewart and Evans Hall staff were given after being forced to quarantine. (Courtesy of Emily Miller)

Students in quarantine are provided with prepared meals, which are left in a fridge in the floor lounge at the start of each day.

“I was only there for one whole day, but it felt horrible,” Emily Miller, a community adviser in Stewart Hall, said. “It was traumatic.”

Rob Babcock, UWO’s director of Residence Life, said UWO’s quick response demonstrates how seriously they are taking COVID-19.

“It demonstrates how quickly and efficiently we were able to respond to a probable positive case,” Kahrs said. “False positives are rare, and we know that. Until confirmed through PCR testing, we need to treat every positive rapid test as a true positive.”

Students say this early wake-up call draws attention to weak points and leaves lingering questions in the minds of students living in campus housing.

With a weekly testing capacity of about a fifth of the student body, how certain can UWO administrators be that the virus won’t spread through residence halls densely packed with students? Students question how UWO will react to a campus-housing situation similar to what other institutions in Wisconsin have experienced already.

On Monday, Marquette University was forced to send an entire residence hall into a two-week quarantine after 56 Marquette students tested positive for coronavirus.

UW-La Crosse ordered a shelter-in-place quarantine for all students in residence halls until Sept. 28. “The number of confirmed and anticipated positive cases have risen quickly and we do not anticipate the number of quarantine and isolation bed spaces we have will accommodate the number of cases,” UW-Eau Claire Vice Chancellor Vitaliano Figueroa said in an email on Sept. 13. The school has recorded over 150 positive antigen test results.

In addition, UW-Madison has suspended all in-person classes until Sept. 25 after the university’s COVID dashboard reported “a concerning and rapid increase in COVID-19 cases among our on- and off-campus students.”

UW-Madison has recorded more than 1,500 positive antigen tests on campus, and over 2,100 in total at the time of publication.

In the meantime, Kahrs encouraged students to wear masks, practice good hygiene and physical distancing, and not just at parties, and encourage compliance from their peers.

“Don’t share dishes, food or utensils,” she said. “Make sure you register for testing with your local address. This allows our contact tracing team to follow up more quickly. Recognize that taking care of your personal health and safety is a way to protect the health and safety of all.”

Correction: This story originally attributed quotes to UWO Marketing and Communications Coordinator Peggy Breister. The quotes belonged to Juliana Kahrs. Additional quotes from Kahrs were also added on how to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.