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UW leader: County needs to stop wishing students were gone

Posted at 5:37 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 18:37:50-04

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s chancellor on Monday pushed back against repeated calls from Dane County’s top leaders to close the campus to slow COVID-19, saying he needs to stop wishing students were gone and crack down on off-campus gatherings.

Rebecca Blank’s remarks are the latest in an escalating war of words with Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who has complained that the rash of student infections since campus opened several weeks ago are skewing the county’s case numbers upward.

Parisi’s administration has enacted some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in the state. He has repeatedly demanded the campus shut down. On Sunday he issued a statement accusing UW leaders of accepting that people are going to get sick and spread the disease, resulting in people suffering long-term heart ailments.

“This . . . is entirely unacceptable when individuals have the ability to make decisions right now to prevent this from continuing,” he said. “The time to act is now.”

Blank fired back Monday with her own statement, asserting that students are a key part of Madison’s economy and thousands of students would stay here in off-campus housing even if the university closed anyway.

“You can’t simply wish them away, nor should you,” Blank said. “This is where students live, where they work, where they vote and their presence supports hundreds of local businesses and the Dane County economy.”

She pointed out that the university is testing thousands of students, has quarantined two dorms and has gone to online instruction for two weeks and the number of cases at UW-Madison has been declining. University data showed 46 positive tests on Sunday, down from a high of 290 on Sept. 9.

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