University of Wisconsin campuses will test students living in dorms for COVID-19 every two weeks, under a new plan announced Thursday. The plan applies to all UW schools except Madison, which has its own testing procedures for the fall semester.
Gov. Tony Evers is directing $32 million in federal CARES Act funding to the UW System for COVID-19 tests, support staff to conduct the tests, and protective equipment for those workers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brings great uncertainty and having robust testing efforts is one of the most important tools we have to help box in this virus and make sure our students stay healthy and safe,” Evers said in a statement.
During a media briefing on Thursday, UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson said the funding will pay for up to 350,000 tests during the semester.
“Which is a lot more testing than what we thought when we originally started [planning,]” Thompson said. “These are ways in which we think we’re going to be able to have a safe opening for students, faculty, instructors and the community.”
All UW schools are operating under a hybrid in-person/online model this semester. The extent of in-person classes varies from campus to campus. Masks are required in university buildings.
The system’s testing plan includes tests for symptomatic students and their close contacts, along with regular testing every two weeks for students living in dorms.
A recent modeling study from Harvard and Yale researchers recommended college students get tested for COVID-19 every two days. Thompson responded to a question about whether testing every two weeks was enough.
“We’re pushing pretty hard to get as much testing in a semester as we are,” he said. “We don’t think you need that further testing. Would I like it? Sure I would like it. Anything I can do to improve safety I’m for it. But is it necessary? I don’t think so. We think we’ve got a very valid, defensible plan.”
Thompson originally requested $110 million from Evers to support testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment. But he says the $32 million that was granted will go further than expected because the system is on track to acquire a more inexpensive type of COVID-19 test. Thompson said the antigen tests made by diagnostics company Quidel are not only less expensive, but they produce faster results, within minutes rather than days.
“We’re gonna be able to have Johnny and Susie tested pretty quickly,” Thompson said.
Have a question about education you'd like WUWM's Emily Files to dig into? Submit it below.