Local graduates recall chaos at UW-Madison

By Jason Arndt
Editor

Jacob Genal

University of Wisconsin campuses have played a considerable part in a statewide spike in new COVID-19 cases since the start of September.

Students at the 13 four-year campuses, according to data compiled by this newspaper, have accounted for at least 13.8% of the 13,582 total confirmed cases from Sept. 1 to 13.

The 13.8% share, however, is likely higher because some UW campuses did not start testing surveillance until Sept. 8. Additionally, two to three schools have combined confirmed positives with antibody results. Antibody tests a person’s immune system for traces of potential past COVID-19 infection.

UW-Madison, the largest of all campuses, has seen the most confirmed cases at 1,192 with UW-La Crosse second at 253 followed by UW-Whitewater’s 166 as of Sept. 13.

UW-Parkside in Kenosha County has the lowest total confirmed cases with three students testing positive, according the university dashboard as of Sept. 13.

The exponential growth at UW-Madison, meanwhile, caused university officials to quarantine Witte and Sellery residence halls Sept. 9 and pivoted to full virtual learning for two weeks.

For some local students attending UW-Madison, they have reported frustration, chaos, anxiety and irresponsible behavior by a small number of the on- and off-campus population.

At the same time, none of them are surprised by spike in cases, including 2020 Elkhorn Area High School graduate Chantel Schneider.

Chantel Schneider

“I kind of expected it being a big school like Madison,” Schneider said. “I knew that most kids would be good, but there is a small chunk of them that are going out and not really wearing masks, so I knew that the infection rate would get pretty high.”

Jacob Genal, who graduated from Union Grove in 2017, found the situation at Madison disappointing and frustrating.

Genal, a senior marketing and management major, said the disappointment lies within students who have not taken precautions seriously.

“A lot of this is on the students for making poor decisions, but the university isn’t really helping things, and neither are Dane County and the City of Madison governments,” he said. “I think we need better communication, and more decisive action taken on students that are not complying with the standards set.”

The University of Wisconsin System, before the school year started, implemented a mask mandate for students and staff while on campus.

But off campus, at least according to Genal, some students and establishments have not been following mitigation procedures and has caused further COVID-19 spread.

“From Dane County and Madison, more action needs to be taken to shut down bars or at least enforce the standard set by them,” he said. “I can say with 100% certainty that they are not following the 25% capacity rules or doing anything to stop the massive lines that are forming.”

Chaotic closure
Luke Nosek, a 2019 Westosha Central graduate, who lives off campus, began hearing rumors of the university’s plan to quarantine Sellery and Witte residence halls and saw many students fleeing to grocery stores to stock up on items.

The quarantine, which took effect 10 p.m. Sept. 9, was announced two hours earlier.

“When they put the two largest freshman dorms under lockdown this week, it was definitely poorly executed – rumors started spreading at about 7 p.m.,” Nosek said on Sunday. “By 8 p.m., there was lines outside of grocery stores and freshmen wiped out Walgreens, a local grocery store.”

Cassandra Questad

Schneider along with Cassandra Questad, who graduated in 2020 from Waterford Union High School, each live in Sellery Residence Hall and have tested negative for COVID-19 as part of campus safety protocol.

They recalled seeing chaos ensue on Sept. 9 when the university announced quarantine precautions.

Questad, who cannot leave her dorm room, even to step outside for fresh air, is only allowed 30 minutes to pick up meals at a nearby dining hall.

“It got crazy that night with people running around buying groceries preparing for the lockdown of two weeks,” Questad said. “We are not able to leave our residence hall.”

Questad said some of her peers have left campus and returned home to quarantine while the university delivers online learning.

However, Quested said she has decided to stay on campus, spending idle time watching Netflix, YouTube and listening to music.

“I know a couple of people that have left because of the lockdown,” she said, adding the situation doesn’t sound as bad as it appears.

Schneider departed Madison on Sept. 12 and arrived back to the Elkhorn area because of anxiety associated with high infection rates and quarantine requirements.

“The infection rate is really, really high, so I was a little nervous and also, we had to stay in our rooms for two weeks and I wanted to come home and be able to go outside,” she said.

The two freshmen, however, remain committed to living in the residence halls during their first years.

For Schneider, she knows of a couple of students looking for other housing options, but she does not plan on following suit.

“I know a lot of people are trying to move out and into apartments, but I am still trying to stay here,” Schneider said.

Campus challenges
Questad acknowledged the start of her first year has been difficult and remains grateful the university is diligently finding ways to maintain housing for students.

“I expected it to be different and I am still very happy that UW-Madison is allowing us to be on campus,” she said.

Schneider recognized the university faces difficult decisions regarding student safety and that most students are following recommendations.

“I think it was a good decision to quarantine the two dorms and I think something should have been done a little bit earlier. They have good intentions,” she said.

“Most of the (students) are following the guidelines, it is just the few that are making it worse.”

Nosek concurred, adding UW-Madison has encountered challenges related to overseeing thousands of students while keeping them safe at the same time.

“It’s hard to be perfect and the situation is pretty fluid. I believe that the university knew there would be an increase in cases bringing back 30,000 social deprived undergraduates,” Nosek said. “But they definitely are well prepared in the sense that they have the capacity to isolate as many students as they need and test as many as they need.”

Lessons learned

Luke Nosek

Nosek, a sophomore, tested positive for COVID-19 after visiting with a friend.

Nosek, who has a grass pollen allergy, began feeling congested and exhibited symptoms for 2 to 3 days.

“I hung out with one friend of mine one night and he ended up having COVID. Just bad luck I suppose,” he said. “I am still lacking a strong sense of smell or taste, but besides that, I am completely recovered.”

While Nosek was released from isolation, he has concerns about others who are unknowingly infected, which could lead to further spread of coronavirus.

Nosek said his positive test was an awakening.

“I am glad to be back on campus and to leave Madison and potentially spread COVID-19 more would be irresponsible,” he said.

Genal does not plan on leaving Madison because he has a job obligation and has a girlfriend living nearby.

“For me personally, I’m in an apartment with a lease I can’t get out of, so I decided to stay and at least be in the same city as my friends and girlfriend,” he said. “My job is also in downtown Madison so it made sense for me.”

Academic shift
Questad is studying kinesiology and said the shift to virtual learning while under quarantine brings the need for more discipline.

The discipline, she said, includes creating an ideal learning structure until quarantine is lifted in late September.

Like Questad, Nosek finds the rapid switch a challenge, mainly because it involves a new routine.

“It has been a bit challenging making sure I have all my homework done in each class,” said Nosek, who is pursuing a management and human resources degree. “It’s getting easier as I settle into a routine, but I just hope my grades don’t suffer due to the fluidity of COVID.”

Humbled and hopeful
Schneider, who is leaning towards studying neurobiology, envisioned making new friends and attending Badger sporting events her freshman year.

But because of COVID-19, those plans have been put on hold, at least for the start of fall semester.

“I expected to meet a lot of people and go to sporting events. Now I am pretty much locked up in my room a lot of the time,” said Schneider. “I am just hoping that they can get a vaccine so I can have a normal sophomore year.”

 
 

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