Community Update Following Spike in Cases of COVID-19
In the past week, Dane County has added 901 new cases of COVID-19, and at least 71% of people who have tested positive for the virus are UW students or staff. We are closely monitoring this recent spike. In particular, we are tracking case counts and spread within the community, the effect of this spike on our healthcare system, and our contact tracing capacity.
Hospitalization rates and deaths tend to lag behind an increase in cases. While hospitalizations among this age group are less common, we are closely watching this metric given students might have interacted with relatives, staff, and community members who are more at risk for complications and death.
We will continue to monitor community data and identify strategies to minimize spread of the virus in Dane County. Two actions that have been taken so far:
- On September 4, we issued quarantine notices to over 400 UW fraternity and sorority members due to outbreaks within their chapter houses.
- On September 7, UW directed undergraduate students to restrict movement for 14 days. Strategies to restrict movement over fourteen days have been effective in slowing the spread of disease in other communities, but keep in mind we will not see the effects of this intervention immediately given the incubation period of the virus. We also have limited data on the efficacy of this intervention in the college campus setting.
Recommendations for All Community Members
Given the record-high number of cases we’re seeing, we want to remind everyone to take precautions to protect your health and safety:
- Stay home if you don’t need to go out. Working from home, virtual gatherings, and using curbside or delivery ordering are still the safest and best options to protect yourself and others.
- Stay home if you’re sick or feel off. A number of new cases reported going out while symptomatic.
- Avoid gatherings. Skipping gatherings limits the chance for virus to spread. Nearly 4 in 10 people who test positive say they gathered with people they don’t live with.
- Wear masks. Masks are required indoors, and we strongly recommend them outdoors anytime you are near others.
- Assume you have come in contact with COVID-19 if you go out. From August 18 through August 31, 40% of cases do not know where they could’ve gotten COVID-19. Watch for symptoms like fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor or visit our testing page for information on how to get tested.
Answers to Your Questions
Will the case increase impact K-2 schools?
K-2 grades were allowed to have in-person instruction because we were averaging less than 54 cases a day in Dane County. Public Health Madison & Dane County staff consistently review outbreak data. Any suspension of in-person instruction will be determined based on several factors, including but not limited to number of positive cases, extent of exposure, and contact tracing capacity. This case increase, (for now) is concentrated in UW students who live near campus with little evidence of spill over into other parts of the community. Grades K-2 closure is not deemed necessary at this time. Public Health staff will continue to closely monitor the data and update orders as appropriate.
Does Public Health Madison & Dane County plan to issue new community-wide orders?
This case increase (for now) is concentrated in UW students who live near campus with little evidence of spill over into other parts of the community. We will continue to monitor disease spread in our community though contact tracing interviews and data analysis.
Why are UW students included in Dane County case counts?
UW-Madison is not an island. Students are not confined to campus; they travel off-campus to work, volunteer, run errands, visit nearby relatives, and explore area attractions. An increase in cases on campus may impact the surrounding community, including populations at higher risk of exposure (e.g., essential workers) and populations more vulnerable to severe COVID illness (e.g., people of color, people aged 65 and older, and people with chronic conditions). As a reminder, Public Health Madison & Dane County does not have authority to inform reopening plans for UW since they are a state government entity.
Why can’t you make UW move to virtual instruction?
Public Health Madison & Dane County does not have the authority to enforce local emergency orders against the State of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, including their departments, agencies, employees and agents acting within their official capacities.
We will continue to encourage everyone in our community to make decisions that will keep our whole county healthy and safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.