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Some universities and colleges are seeing lower COVID-19 positivity rates than their communities are

Posted at 6:32 PM, Oct 05, 2020

NORTHEAST, WI (NBC 26) -- COVID-19 cases across Wisconsin have steadily climbed for a month now. In the last 31 days, the average positivity rate for the virus according to DHS is at 14 percent. But local universities and colleges are doing much better than that, some with a positivity rate on campus of less than one percent.

Some colleges and universities across northeast Wisconsin are seeing much lower positivity rates of COVID-19 than the communities that surround them.

"They have a very good strategy in terms of testing frequently, identifying those who are positive and getting them isolated and out of exposure to other people," says Amber Allen the Executive Director of Primary Care Quality and Innovation for Prevea Health.

Allen says the trend on local campuses doesn't completely surprise her. She cites the fact that many higher education facilities planned for months how to bring students back and keep them back for the fall semester.

"Certainly, there is positives. We expected there to be positives in those settings. But they are not an overwhelming majority."

So what are campuses doing right, which puts them in a different situation than their surrounding communities are currently experiencing? Well, some colleges in northeast Wisconsin have eliminated in-person dining experiences on campus and others have put curfews in place, not allowing guests to visit dorms during certain hours. But the one thing Allen says has really has made a difference in low positivity rates on campuses is a robust COVID-19 testing system, followed up with contract tracing all within the confines of the campus.

"This is an excellent example of how testing can make a difference. They are testing frequently, it's immediately available, certainly within a day."

And as communities, surrounding college campuses try to replicate a trend going on in many higher learning institutions, health care leaders are optimistic that communities can learn from the example set.

"I do think that there is going to have to be some additional mitigation strategies to continue to contain this virus," says Allen.

Right now, UWO has a positivity rate amongst staff and students of eight percent, UWGB has a positivity rate of just over one percent, and Lawrence University in Appleton has students testing positive for COVID-19 at a rate of less than one percent over the past month.