All eyes on college students, factors to keep in-person learning depend on students following UWL rules

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Outbreaks of COVID-19 are hitting colleges across the U.S. And pretty close to home, UW Eau Claire reported 69 cases of the virus in their dorms over the weekend. In an effort to keep students safe, UW La Crosse is paying attention to metrics.

Masks and social distancing, there are some things that UW La Crosse can do to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We have extensive protocols in place,” said UWL Chancellor Joe Gow.

But  there are factors the school can’t necessarily control.

“We were alarmed to hear that over the holiday weekend there were some gatherings off campus,” said Gow.

According to Chancellor Gow, these off campus gatherings, and the future of in-person learning go hand in hand.

“We know it’s really challenging for students because the college experience is so much about being close and around other people, but we just can’t do that right now,” said Gow.

Local health experts advise there are some best practices to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 at a college.

“It’s going to be a combination of just really good education to everybody, so everyone knows what the risks are, and then developing some physical controls. Whether it’s more virtual learning or ending school before Thanksgiving,” said Megan Meller, an infection preventionist at Gundersen Health System.

Switching to online learning comes with a lot of oversight. UWL reports three numbers to the UW System.

“The daily test results, the quarantine capacity, and also the local hospital capacity,” said Gow.

The UW System looks at these numbers and helps make big decisions, like switching to virtual for the rest of the semester.

“They’re taking that system wide view of how things are going and so certainly if we were going to switch to an all distance format, we would want to be talking to system leadership,” said Gow.

School officials have a strong message to students putting in-person learning at risk.

“If we find out who is hosting a party, and it’s one of our students, we’ll have to suspend them,” said Gow.

But health experts say, some college students are making informed choices.

“Wearing facemaks, it works. When I was out last weekend at a park, I saw a lot of college students wearing masks when they were together. And that to me is a very encouraging sign. It gives me a lot of hope,” said Meller.

Chancellor Gow says it’s too early to detect any large scale outbreak yet, but will continue to be open about the number of cases reported on campus.