After an up-and-down fall semester, UW-Whitewater has started its second full semester of the COVID-19 era with weekly testing at its Rock County campus and more explicit guidelines for those in Whitewater.
The outlook at the start of the fall semester was not good. But UW-Whitewater was able to make it to its goal of having some in-person classes until Thanksgiving break.
The university started its spring semester last week, and officials have more experience after what they set up in the fall.
University Police Chief Matt Kiederlen on Thursday said he is “realistically optimistic” going into the spring.
He said they had pretty high compliance rate for COVID-19 testing in the fall, which fit in well with the mask-wearing and cleaning protocols on campus.
Kiederlen said what’s new for the spring semester is the specific expectation for students, faculty and staff who live off campus to be tested once every two weeks if they are physically coming to campus.
As they were in the fall, students who live in the dorms are to be tested weekly, according the university.
The university also added a testing option in Rock County, which doesn’t have dorms for students to live in.
Testing on the Rock County campus will be available by appointment from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a rotating basis each week, moving between Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through April 21 at the health clinic office in Hyatt Smith Hall.
Kiederlen said the UW System requires universities to have testing options on campuses, but UW-Whitewater is electing to “strongly encourage” students, staff and faculty to get tested.
The rapid testing available to the entire community had its last day Friday, but Kiederlen said it went well, and they’re hoping to get what’s needed to run it again.
They were originally allocated 15,000 tests, but Kiederlen said they ended up using more. A third-party company contracted with the federal government and administered and processed the tests.
He said he would never argue against getting more testing capabilities for the campus and surrounding community, but he also said he understands how much personnel it takes to have COVID-19 testing.
Having gone through a semester already, Kiederlen is “absolutely” worried about pandemic fatigue, a phrase coined to mean growing tired with all the extra steps individuals have to take to reduce spread of the deadly virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans already.
“Absolutely I’m concerned about that,” he said. “Not just in my direct officers, but I see it everywhere.”
He said he has learned a lot about patience and empathy going through the pandemic so far. He acknowledged the mental and emotional costs that come with isolation.
He also said they have had to be prepared for big, rapid change on short notice—such as when they brought the surge testing to campus with about one week’s notice.
Kiederlen, in his role as law enforcement, got his first of two vaccine shots. But he said unless other UW-W officials are first responders or medical personnel, they would likely be considered among the general population for vaccine distribution.
With the vaccine rollout underway in Wisconsin and nationwide, he hopes the summer can be when things return to normal.
But that would require a lot that is outside his control. Meanwhile, he will be hoping that the campus responds as it did to the hardships of the fall semester.
“It was an adventure,” he said. “I mean that in a positive manner. It was. It was a hell of a challenge. But thankfully I feel our campus came up to it.”