La Crosse campus COVID
Despite college officials warning students to social distance, wear masks, and displaying signs like this one on the UW-Eau Claire campus, COVID-19 outbreaks are still occurring on campuses. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

Number of COVID-19 cases on campus reaches 275 in less than one week. 

The University of Wisconsin’s La Crosse campus is the latest coronavirus hotspot,  with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases prompting a 14-day quarantine of all residence halls that started Sunday and a halt to in-person instruction. 

In addition, Chancellor Joe Gow announced the closing of all academic buildings, the student union, and all in-person study spots for at least the next two weeks, an effort to quell the spread of the contagious virus both on and off campus. 

The campus has recorded 275 positive COVID-19 cases since Tuesday. All classes were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday and coursework switches online Wednesday. 

Students were quarantined in their dorms beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday “given the high number of positive test results among resident students in a variety of residence halls,” Gow said Sunday.

The shelter-in-place order requires face masks on the entire campus, in indoor and outdoor areas. Gow urged students not to travel home for fear they might spread the virus to others. 

“I share the disappointment and frustration of students, families, faculty and staff who had hoped we might enjoy the start to this fall semester together,” Gow wrote in a letter addressing the outbreak. 

La Crosse is the system’s second university to suspend face-to-face instruction because of concerns about the fast rise of COVID-19 cases on campus. On Wednesday UW-Madison officials announced a move to virtual-only coursework and quarantined students in two university residence halls. 

On Monday UW-Madison took additional action regarding the coronavirus crisis. The university’s faculty senate voted to cancel spring break because of concerns about the virus and university officials announced they are investigating 300 students for violating school standards related to COVID-19.

The university’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards is investigating possible student behavior violations related to the virus. Eight students have been suspended so far.  

Other Wisconsin universities also are grappling with rising COVID-19 cases on their campuses. At UW-Eau Claire, 184 positive cases of the virus have been reported, and some floors on residence halls were shut down because of concerns about the virus spreading. 

Officials with UW-Whitewater have reported 208 positive cases, while at least 71 cases have been detected at UW-Platteville. 

Despite efforts by university officials to contain the virus, the number of positive cases continues to grow at some campuses. At UW-Madison, for example, 211 people tested positive on Sunday and another 194 did so on Monday, bringing the total there to 1,514. 

As the number of tests climbs on campuses, it does the same in communities in which those colleges are located. Positive COVID-19 tests have risen dramatically in Dane County since the fall semester started, reaching a one-day high on Thursday of 456 cases, nearly triple the previous one-day record increase in the county. 

In Eau Claire County, one-day record increases were set last week as well, reaching 38 on Friday before spiking to 73 on Saturday and 61 Sunday, with many connected to UW-Eau Claire, public health officials said. Likewise on Sunday, La Crosse County reported a new one-day case record of 129 new cases, many linked directly to UW-La Crosse.

Those rapidly rising numbers have prompted concerns among officials in those cities, who said they’re worried about the virus spreading from campuses to other parts of those cities. City Councils in Whitewater and Eau Claire have discussed their concerns about virus spread from students to others in their communities. 

In Madison, public health officials have recommended anyone who has visited that city’s downtown since the school year began earlier this month to be tested for COVID-19. 

“When you see the number of cases rising so fast, it’s hard not to worry about it,” Madison resident LeAnne Steinke said. “When you have all of those students gathered in one place, it just seems like this was something that was going to happen.”