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Area schools, colleges and universities took steps to protect students and families from the coronavirus Wednesday by announcing campus closures, postponing travel and sending out email updates.

The Janesville School District asked Washington Seminar students to monitor their health in response to the spread of the coronavirus elsewhere in the country.

A group of 25 high school students returned from Washington, D.C., on Feb. 29 after meeting with lawmakers and doing research. Five chaperones accompanied them.

“While several students did go to Georgetown during the trip to conduct interviews, none of the students/staff had any direct contact with the Rev. Timothy Cole nor at any time went inside Christ Church in Georgetown,” Patrick Gasper, the district's public information officer, wrote in a news release.

Cole is pastor of Christ Church Episcopal Church in Georgetown. He has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and public health officials have asked the congregation to self-quarantine.

The Janesville district heard about concerns over the Washington Seminar students' exposure on Tuesday, Gasper said. Since the students returned, they are already 11 days into the 14-day observance period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“After consultation with the Rock County Health Department, and because the risk of potential exposure to the students was extremely low, they were contacted by the school administration but not asked to self-quarantine,” Gasper wrote.

The students were asked to monitor their health through this weekend, and parents were informed.

Meanwhile, the Milton School District is postponing out-of-state travel and asking students to take home their district-issued laptops and tablets every day.

In a Wednesday letter to parents, Superintendent Rich Dahman said the Rock County Public Health Department and state Division of Public Health think the risk of infection is low here.

“However, experts agree that following spring break travel, it is likely COVID-19 will spread further throughout our nation,” Dahman wrote. “We are asking parents to prepare for possible closures in the coming weeks and months.”

Blackhawk Technical College, which is on spring break this week, announced it is canceling classes Monday and Tuesday, March 16-17, and will hold online classes starting Wednesday, March 18.

Only employees need to report on those two days to meet with their departments and arrange to move coursework online, according to a news release.

Faculty will share instructions with students through BTC's learning management system, Blackboard, and BTC email accounts, the release states.

Beloit College announced Wednesday it will close its campus until March 30 and hold classes online after spring break, which is being extended by one week.

Classes will resume March 23 and will be held online that week. Students will be able to return to campus at 5 p.m. March 28, according to the release.

All campus events are canceled through March 30, the college said.

UW-Madison officials announced Wednesday they will suspend face-to-face instruction after spring break and students shouldn't return to the campus because of fears of spreading the coronavirus.

UW-Madison's spring break begins Saturday and runs through March 22. Face-to-face instruction will end March 23, the date classes are scheduled to resume. The suspension will last until at least April 10, when university officials will reassess the situation. Students will be able to complete coursework remotely until face-to-face instruction resumes.

A host of universities around the country have already taken similar measures, including Ohio State. UW-Milwaukee announced Tuesday it was extending its spring break to a second week, to run through March 29, and planned to move most classes online once students return.

UW-Whitewater officials have not yet closed the campus or altered spring break, which runs March 23-27.

However, in an announcement Wednesday, UW-W Chancellor Dwight Watson advised students to take instructional materials, medications and other necessary items with them for spring break in case the university chooses to postpone classes or offer online instruction.

Watson urged students to reconsider travel plans, saying he has canceled a personal trip to Florida as "a precautionary measure and so that I can be on campus during this critical time."

Health officials say they are still learning about the coronavirus and COVID-19. It’s a respiratory infection that causes coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever and other symptoms.

Six cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Wisconsin: two in Dane County, two in Fond du Lac County, one in Waukesha County and one in Pierce County. Fifty-three tests have come back negative.

One of the infected Dane County patients has recovered.

The Rock County Public Health Department is not aware of any tests administered in Rock County, said epidemiologist Nick Zupan. 

Tests, if given, would be submitted to one of two state health labs by a health care provider, and results would be shared with the health department, Zupan said.

Looser testing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given health care providers more freedom to test and will lead to more tests being sent to the state, Zupan said.

Wisconsin has not seen evidence of community spread, meaning people spreading the virus within the state. All positive cases have come from people who traveled, according to the state health department.

Here are additional details about area institutions' plans to deal with the virus:

  • Janesville School District: All schools are in the process of installing additional hand-sanitizing stations in various locations, particularly near cafeterias and lunchrooms, Gasper said.

  • Beloit College: Some classes at Beloit College might continue online after March 30, the college said in its news release. The college is working with students who cannot delay their return to campus, and accommodations are being made on a case-by-case basis. Beloit students who are studying abroad are not being asked to return home. The college is working with its study abroad partners and monitoring travel information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, according to the release.

  • UW-Whitewater: As of Wednesday, the university is not aware of any UW-W students who have been tested for COVID-19, spokesman Jeff Angileri wrote in an email.

Students who live on campus and do not have other places to go will be assisted by university housing staff if UW-W chooses to close the campus, Watson, the chancellor, said in his announcement.

Faculty and staff will have access to campus if courses are moved online, but students will not, Watson said.

The university has canceled one upcoming study trip to South Korea, which affected one Whitewater student, Angileri said. No UW-W students are studying in countries with travel advisories.

The university will launch a COVID-19 call-in line Thursday. A listening session will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday, March 19, in the Old Main Ballroom at the University Center. University health officials will be available to answer questions.

The listening session will be live-streamed on the university’s Facebook page.

For additional stories and information, visit GazetteXtra.com/coronavirus.

Gazette reporter Catherine W. Idzerda and The Associated Press contributed to this report.