UW didn't spread COVID in Madison, Dane

Posted at 2 p.m. on May 18, 2021

By Benjamin Yount

Center Square News Service

MADISON - The coronavirus outbreak at the University of Wisconsin-Madison didn’t go beyond the university’s dorm room walls.

A new Centers for Disease Control-backed study says there’s no evidence that coronavirus-positive students infected the rest of Madison or Dane County.

“Almost 14.0 percent of students living in residence halls tested positive,” the study states. “We did not detect evidence of transmission of the predominant viral lineages associated with [two] residence halls beyond these residence halls within Dane County. This suggests interventions likely succeeded in preventing subsequent transmission and further spread into the Dane County community.”

UW-Madison drove much of Dane County’s coronavirus testing and quarantine efforts in August and September of last year. The researchers looked at just what those quarantine efforts accomplished. Their study suggests the quick decision to quarantine students helped contain the virus.

“Across all residence halls, 5,820 of 6,162 students (94.4 percent) were tested during move-in week August 25-31, 2020,” the study explained. “Overall, 856/6,162 (13.9 pecent) students living in the 19 on-campus residence halls had a positive [test].”

The study’s team notes that the two dorms they focused on, which they call Residence Hall A and Residence Hall B, accounted for most of the dorm room positives at UW-Madison, despite having just a fraction of students living there.


“Residence Halls A and B accounted for 68.5 percent of all residence hall cases , but only 34.4 percent of all students living in residence halls,” the authors wrote.


[Photo of Bascom Hall, UW-Madison>>]



The new study contradicts claims from Madison and Dane County leaders last fall that UW-Madison students were a danger to the community because they were spreading the coronavirus.

“We all love our great University and what it brings to our community. Unfortunately, given the pandemic, congregating these students has significantly impacted the capacity of the public health system, local public health efforts, and may impact the health of our community.” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in early September.

Parisi eventually asked UW Madison to send students home, and all but cancel the fall semester. The university did not take him up on his suggestion.

On May 18, Public Health Madison & Dane County announced it would lift all public health orders, including mask requirements, and gathering and capacity limits, effective June 2.

When the orders expire on June 2, masking requirements will become recommendations and individual businesses and organizations may choose to enforce their own policies.

~ Ed Byrne/BN expanded the original story by including the PHMDC decision.