La Crosse colleges respond to county surge in COVID cases

Published: Sep. 21, 2020 at 5:29 PM CDT
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After reporting over 250 cases last Friday, La Crosse County now sits at 2,622 cases overall with 54 new positives Monday.

Last week, UW-La Crosse moved to online-only learning for two weeks following its surge in cases.

Other universities in the county are also responding to the spike while keeping students on-campus.

Almost 90 percent of La Crosse County’s cases are individuals ages 15 to 29.

One of the county’s colleges Viterbo University currently has 39 active cases and 132 students in quarantine.

It says the positive cases are expected and the school looks to five areas of criteria when it comes to deciding to stay in-person or move online.

“County, state, national mandate-- that’s a pretty obvious one. Also, we look at our number of active positive cases on-campus in our residence halls,” said Rick Trietley, Viterbo University interim provost. “We look at the number of active cases for our employees.”

Trietley says Viterbo also looks at the county rate of positive cases and occupancy levels of area hospital.

This semester Viterbo instated a no guest policy in all residence halls-- even if somebody lives in a building, they are not allowed in any other dorm.

The school is enforcing these policies.

“We prefer to do things with education as much as possible, so if we have a student that’s not wearing their mask, we will bring them in and have a conversation,” Trietley explained. “If they do it again, then there will be an escalation and perhaps the penalty and then if a student is just flat out not willing to comply, we could easily remove them from campus entirely or suspend or expel them.”

While Viterbo is a residential campus, Western Technical College in La Crosse is not with just 82 students living in the residence hall-- something that could be considered a benefit during a pandemic.

“We have less people on-campus, but it’s still impacting our community members and so we still want to make sure we are providing the appropriate support, guidance, resources,” said Shelley McNeely, Dean of Students at Western.

McNeely says the COVID dashboard is updated every Wednesday, currently only seven cases have been reported out of an estimated 3,100 students.

It credits having just 32 percent of classes in-person and daily screening for the low number.

Western has a protocol of looking at clusters of cases to decide if changes need to be made.

“It might be suspending a particular class, maybe suspending a program or maybe closing a building or potentially closing a campus depending on what that cluster looks like and how widespread that is,” McNeely added.

A system that seems to be working, for now.

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