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UW System plans at least 75% in-person classes next fall, back to pre-pandemic levels

UW System plans at least 75% in-person classes next fall, back to pre-pandemic levels

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University of Wisconsin Interim President Tommy Thompson leads the daily UW System Emergency Operations Center meeting in a board room at Van Hise Hall at University of Wisconsin - Madison on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

University of Wisconsin System schools will aim to have a minimum of 75% of classes in person for the fall 2021 semester, interim System President Tommy Thompson announced Thursday.

Thompson expressed great optimism about the future of vaccinations across Wisconsin and the System at a news conference. The state of Wisconsin has administered over one million vaccine doses as of Tuesday, but Thompson ambitiously said it should be able to administer 300,000 weekly.

“The vaccine is really going to be more important than the testing,” Thompson said. “Not in any way to slow down on the testing, but … at the same time, ramp up the vaccinations, so we have a double whammy to protect our students, faculty and administrators.”

Each System school will be expected to offer 75% of its classes at least somewhat in person. Across the System, 48% of classes were fully or partially in person last fall and 38% this spring.

In addition to its testing plan for students, the System has administered about 250,000 free, federally funded antigen tests for community members. UW-Madison has maintained a positivity rate of or below 1% since mid-January, and Thompson said rates are similarly low across the System.

Thompson announced the plan to chancellors this week and said that they were all “very supportive” of the new goal. Given that about 20% of courses were taught virtually even prior to the pandemic, Thompson said this goal will bring System schools back to previous levels of in-person education while maintaining the benefits of online courses.

“I don’t want to lose all that we’ve learned in the past year of how to do a better job of testing and giving the material to the students,” Thompson said. “We’re not going to give that up. … I know we’re never going to get back to normal, but I’m going to fight like hell to get back to as close to normal as we possibly can.” 

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