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Collaboration leads to successful UW-Eau Claire testing, vaccination clinics

| Gary Johnson

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire has hosted clinics that administered more than 108,000 COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began two years ago.

Since the pandemic started in 2020, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has hosted clinics that provided more than 108,000 COVID-19 tests and over 18,000 vaccines to students, employees and the community.

Those antigen testing and vaccination numbers illustrate the power of university partnerships created to help keep the campus and community safe during the pandemic, says Grace Crickette, UW-Eau Claire’s vice chancellor for finance and administration.

“The launch of these clinics went smoothly thanks to the countless efforts of many,” Crickette says. “We practiced and prepared. We worked in unison with a single purpose in mind: to get as many Wisconsinites as possible tested and vaccinated.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now has rated Eau Claire County’s COVID-19 community level as “low” because of declining cases and hospital admissions.

Due to that rating and other factors, including the high rate of vaccinations among students and employees, UW-Eau Claire is lifting its mask requirement on all campuses at the end of the day on Friday, March 11. Masks still are encouraged in campus buildings.

UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire City-County Health Department have worked closely together throughout the two-year public health crisis to manage COVID-19-related issues on campus and in the community. The two entities had a strong partnership before the pandemic with a shared vision to improve the safety of the campus community, says Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

“Community testing and vaccination that happened as part of this partnership became an important asset for our whole community,” Giese says. “We also had a strong partnership with UWEC to do disease investigation work together for campus-connected positive cases. This helped slow disease spread, especially in closer contact situations like dorms, classrooms and sports teams, and was hugely appreciated.”

In fall 2020, UW-Eau Claire provided the first significant antigen testing resource in Eau Claire with a drive-thru clinic at Memorial High School. Testing later moved to campus and extended to the UW-Eau Claire – Barron County campus.

Zorn Arena hosted a mass vaccination clinic in April 2021 — the second regional vaccination site in Wisconsin — coordinated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency along with UW-Eau Claire, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the state of Wisconsin. UW-Eau Claire’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences faculty, staff and students provided support for the weekly clinics.

“The vaccine clinics on campus, including those held at Zorn Arena in 2021, were a tremendous opportunity to get vaccines to thousands of people — both UWEC-connected and community members from across the area,” Giese says. “This was a huge effort by many partners and we’re very thankful for this work and the impact it had not just for the Eau Claire community, but also our region.” 

Giese was pleased that 94% of UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff, and more than 83% of students, received vaccinations, which she called “the best way that we can protect ourselves and those around us from getting seriously sick from COVID-19.”

“It’s great that so many who are part of the campus community have chosen to get vaccinated,” Giese says. “This will help to create a safer working and learning environment for the thousands of faculty, staff and students on campus, including those who are not able to be vaccinated.”