Thanks to a comprehensive review of residence life policies and practices put in place at the start of the year, as well as further investigation and interviewing of students who tested positive for COVID-19, the Eau Claire City-County Health Department was able to work with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to lift a full quarantine for six separate floors in residence halls on campus.
The six residence hall wings were put into quarantine Sunday, Sept. 6, after six students tested positive for COVID-19. All residents on those floors were considered close contacts based on their shared living space and typical shared activities which met the household definition the state provides for close contacts.
Chancellor James Schmidt said the university acted quickly in quarantining the wings to limit the chance that other students in the residence would contract the virus.
“We acted out of an abundance of caution,” Schmidt said. “We made the right decision at the time, and now, after we have been able to review and assess the situation, and with support from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, we are able to review the actual residence life policies and practices on these floors and focus on close contacts now rather than quarantining entire wings. We are confident our protocols will be responsive.”
Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, said the adjustments made by the university related to the dorm practices and careful interviews of the cases prompted her team to review the quarantine determination.
“Student safety, and the safety of our community, is paramount in every discussion and decision that we make,” Giese said. “After looking at all the environmental and activity changes that were instituted in the dorm and after verification of close contact information from the students who tested positive, it was determined that other dorm residents could be released. Those students who are COVID-19 positive continue in isolation and their close contacts are quarantined.”
Additional safety steps have been taken, including reducing the number of showers in shared bathrooms and the implementation of a sign-in procedure for use of all communal spaces. In addition, furniture in common spaces at Hilltop Center has been removed and additional contact tracers are being trained.
“Our close working relationship with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department has been invaluable as we prepare and respond to this pandemic,” said Dr. Warren Anderson, vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and student affairs. “We are making progress and adjusting every day, and the work of the teams in Student Health Service, EDISA and Housing and Residence Life has been nothing short of phenomenal.”
As an additional caution, the students who were included in the quarantine on those wings are all receiving antigen tests. Like all students in the dorms, regular antigen screening will continue as part of the UWEC strategy to slow the spread of disease.