WHITEWATER Kaitlyn Grove thought she was being safe by hanging out with only a few people on campus at a time.
But less than a month into her sophomore year, Grove was ordered by UW-Whitewater to move to a quarantined dorm room because she was exposed to the coronavirus, despite her best efforts to abide by safety guidelines, she said.
Grove hung out with a couple girls she knew, unaware one of them was awaiting COVID-19 test results because that person’s roommate had already tested positive.
The other girl’s test came back positive and Grove was sent to a quarantined dorm where she has to stay inside with few exceptions, take all her classes online and have her food delivered.
Grove’s COVID-19 test came back negative, but she has to stay in the quarantined dorm until two weeks after the date she was exposed.
Many people, Grove said, are testing positive and still going out to parties or hanging out with other people.
“There is no regard for community,” Grove said.
Since March, 300 cases of COVID-19 in students have been reported to the university. Of those, 236 were reported since Sept. 6, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The quick spike in COVID-19 cases in Whitewater after students returned to campus is presenting a threat to local public health resources, said Carlo Nevicosi, deputy director of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services.
Many students who have caught the virus have been OK because the population is largely young and healthy, Nevicosi said, but the health department has to investigate and contact trace each case, which requires a lot of time and manpower.
The health department is close to being pushed past its limit, Nevicosi said.
Walworth County has shifted workers from other areas to help in the contact tracing and investigating efforts and the county is continuing to hire more people, Nevicosi said.
As of now, the health department is able to make contact with people with confirmed cases within its goal of 24 to 48 hours, but that could change if cases keep climbing as quickly as they are, he said.
Seniors Ryan McKee, Harvey Mueller and Michael Zlotnick live together with a few other students in a house off campus, and all caught the coronavirus over the summer, they said.
Once one person gets sick in one house, it is difficult for everyone else to avoid it, they said. A few of them had mild symptoms, while McKee said he never showed symptoms despite his positive test.
The men sat outside Saturday afternoon in separated lawn chairs around a pile of beer cans, a scene that seems to have replaced the typical fall daytime adventures of tailgating football games or gathering in bars to watch the Badgers play in Madison.
Missing out on sports and other events for senior year is disappointing, McKee said.
Mueller, a business student, said he worries he will miss out on career opportunities because he can’t network with professionals in person or connect with professors who might help him find a job.
When asked if they think campus will remain open, the men, almost in unison, said no.
McKee predicts the campus will shut down soon.
A lot of students are still going out to bars or parties, which the three of them agreed is perpetuating the rising case numbers.
Younger students who are eager to get the “college experience” seem to be the ones more likely to go out and disregard safety guidelines, they said.
“If you want to be here, stop going out,” Zlotnick said. “It’s that simple.”
Nevicosi said the health department has not fielded complaints regarding Whitewater bars or restaurants related to COVID-19.
So far, the virus seems to be spreading quickly through households or people who live in shared spaces, Nevicosi said.
The health department saw earlier this year in Lake Geneva that the virus spread quickly through bar and restaurant staff members, but the health department had a hard time seeing how it spread through patrons because many people were tourists who live in other health department jurisdictions, Nevicosi said.
The health department could start seeing stronger correlations between cases and businesses in Whitewater as more cases and data are reported, he said.
Grove said campus is a “toxic” place right now because some people are not caring to follow the rules and are then called out by other people who are following rules.
It is difficult to maintain friendships with people who have varying opinions on how to act during the pandemic, Grove said.
Freshman Emily Evraets said she feels safe on campus and so far has had no negative experiences regarding COVID-19.
It is awkward to meet new people while wearing masks and spreading out, Evraets said, but she has made new friends pretty quickly.
Evraets was eager to get to campus and take classes in person after having ended her senior year of high school with virtual schooling, she said.
One of Evraets’ classes meets in person, but her others are online, which she said happened unintentionally.
Joe Wiebersch does missionary work with students on campus. He said many of the students he interacts with are taking the pandemic seriously and following guidelines.
If the campus were to shut down, Wiebersch said, he would lead Bible studies virtually because it is a service that is especially needed in times like this.
“People use Christ during times of uncertainty … students are really seeking that,” Wiebersch said.