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UW launches public COVID test database, hires 35 contact tracers

UW launches public COVID test database, hires 35 contact tracers

COVID-19_campus_test20_2499

SARS-CoV-2 collection materials are pictured as staff from University Health Services instruct people how to self-administer a nasal-swab test at a COVID-19 testing tent set up on Henry Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Aug. 10, 2020. The location is the first of three, free COVID-19 testing sites available to UW-Madison students, faculty and staff as campus reopens for the Fall 2020 semester during the global coronavirus pandemic. 

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is now publicly tracking COVID-19 test results daily on a new website, as it begins welcoming students back to campus and prepares for in-person instruction.

The COVID-19 dashboard, launched Wednesday, includes data on both total and positive tests, as well as percentages of positive tests among both students and employees. It will be updated daily at 2 p.m.

With classes set to begin Sept. 2, the university plans to administer about 8,000 tests during move-in week, more than the prediction of 6,000 tests weekly throughout the semester. All students moving into a residence hall are required to be tested and will continue to do so on a regular basis.

Positive results for student on-campus tests — which first started Aug. 6 — have been about 1.6%, similar to Dane County numbers. In a blog post Wednesday, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the increase in testing will identify yield more positive cases in the short term, especially as students return from their permanent addresses. 

“But this also means that we are identifying and isolating positive cases before they have a chance to spread,” Blank wrote. “We are prepared for up and down movements in positivity rates from week to week as our semester progresses, as we’ve seen in local and statewide tracking of other test positivity rates.”

Blank said at a University Committee meeting Monday that on-campus testing has nearly doubled total testing capacity for Dane County, which primarily administered tests at the Alliant Energy Center. The university’s testing plan will have “little to no impact” on other testing sites or resources, she added.

Anyone who tests positive is required to isolate on campus or return home. They remain in isolation until symptom-free for three days or at least 10 days from the onset of their symptoms or their positive test.

UW-Madison has also hired 35 contact tracers, who notify people who have been in close contact with those who test positive. Such contacts are expected to quarantine for 14 days and are tested again on the twelfth day.

As of Aug. 26, two students are in on-campus quarantine and none in on-campus isolation. 

Thirty-three students and three employees have tested positive to date, in addition to 87 students and eight employees who were tested at off-campus sites. Nine out of 475 students tested positive Tuesday, which marked the highest number of students tested on any given day.

“If our monitoring suggests that a level of infection is creating a public health threat, we will take steps to close parts of campus,” Blank said Monday. “The decision does depend a little on what we’re seeing and where on campus we’re seeing it, returning to virtual work or virtual instruction as needed”

Free, unlimited testing is available for students, faculty and staff on an appointment basis at a site on Henry Mall, located between University Avenue and Linden Drive. People can be tested on a walk-in or drive-through basis.

Students living in residence halls, who will undergo required, regular testing, have additional testing sites located at Ogg Hall and the Frank Holt Center. 

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