MADISON (WKOW) — This fall, UW-Madison has kept up a pace of 10,000 coronavirus tests every week, but an ambitious new plan for spring semester aims to boost those numbers.
Testing will be required at UW-Madison as students return to campus in January. Every student will have to be tested twice weekly.
“The goal of this mandatory testing is to identify cases sooner, so folks can take precautions, stop the spread,” said UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone.
The Safer Badgers program nearly triples test sites, aiming to process 70,000 tests a week. They will be open seven days a week to be more accessible.
“We know that we’re part of a broader community. We know that oftentimes, particularly younger people, may have COVID and not have symptoms and be spreading it without even realizing it,” McGlone said. “So we think this is an important way to protect not only the health of the campus community, but also the broader community. “
The university is hoping to make testing easier with a new cell phone app. Students and staff will be able to track their test schedules and get results on their phone. They’ll also have to show their status before they’re allowed inside buildings.
It’s a program 50,000 people have been using on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus this fall.
“The experience for us on our campus has been one of constant moving and shaping and innovation and change,” said Dr. William Sullivan. “Also, doing the best we can to promote privacy and promote health and safety on our campus.”
Sullivan, a professor and director of the Smart Healthy Community Initiative at UIUC, says the university has focused on privacy first as it developed this app. It doesn’t collect location information and regularly purges data to protect users.
The app isn’t required, but by the end of the semester, 94 percent of test results on campus were sent through the app.
“We gained quite a number of people who found the app really easy to use,” Sullivan told 27 News. “They noticed there were no security issues or breaches. They felt secure in the privacy. I think the convenience and the security helps people feel it was a good tool to use.”
UIUC has done more than a million coronavirus tests to date, right now testing students twice weekly.
It’s something officials at UW were impressed with, as they looked to develop a plan moving forward with the spring semester.
“We know it’s going to be quite a long time, likely not until summer or later even, until everybody on our campus population is eligible to receive the vaccine,” McGlone said. “So we put this plan in place, knowing that we would need to still have pretty robust health and safety precautions in place for spring.”
The boost in testing is part of a System-wide approach across Wisconsin, according to Board of Regents President Andrew Petersen.
“The biggest benefit, I think, that the UW System and UW-Madison has provided in the fall, and as we sit today, is that we’re providing community testing now throughout the state at all of our regional campuses,” he told 27 News. “So not only are we serving our campus community well, but we’re serving the communities that we serve, which I believe is the Wisconsin Idea in action.”
UW-Madison is hiring additional staff right now to help with the surge in testing expected and to monitor entrances to buildings. Faculty and staff will also be required to get tested.