The governor and Legislature squabbling over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic is nothing new or surprising. We’ve suffered through that show for months.
But when local officials and UW-Madison start blaming each other for a rise in COVID-19 cases, our community is really in trouble.
“It’s long past time to stop arguing,” UW-Madison Chancellor Becky Blank said recently in a statement, calling on Dane County Executive Joe Parisi to stop criticizing the university’s reopening plan and instead collaborate to reduce infections.
Parisi wasn’t impressed.
“They created this problem in the community, and now they’re turning to us and saying, ‘Fix it,’” he told the State Journal.
Easy, guys. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s acknowledge that the novel coronavirus has been hard to control, and no one is really sure where the pandemic is heading. We hope a reliable vaccine will emerge soon.
Until then, trying to work together to promote public health with a unified front should be the goal.
Parisi and other local officials wanted UW-Madison to offer online classes only. Instead, UW went with some limited in-person classes, and it opened dorms.
That decision hasn’t worked well, given a surge in COVID-19 cases in Dane County. The increase has been fueled largely by young adults. UW has had to quarantine some frat and sorority houses as well as dorms because of outbreaks.
Yet many students would have come back to Madison—or never left—even if all classes were entirely online. That’s what happened at Michigan State, which asked students who live in dorms to stay home. Many returned to East Lansing, renting off-campus apartments. Within a couple weeks, an outbreak occurred.
Limited classes with students spaced apart aren’t really the issue. The problem is bars and house parties, where alcohol reduces the distance between people while increasing the volume at which they talk without masks. That can fuel greater spread of the virus because it travels through the air on respiratory droplets.
Chancellor Blank stresses that UW doesn’t have the authority to shut down large gatherings of students off-campus. Parisi counters that the county doesn’t have the money to “create a party patrol” to crack down on irresponsible behavior. Parisi called for dorm residents to go home, but that would risk spreading more of the disease across the state.
We get that each institution’s role is different, with competing interests. UW wants to keep students learning and experiencing campus life. Dane County wants to keep cases down so businesses and schools can fully reopen.
Nobody has an easy answer on how to move forward because the virus isn’t fully understood. But this much is clear: University and local officials need to work as partners to slow the spread as best they can.
Stop fighting. Sit down and talk. Then act together.