42 UW-Madison players, staff have tested positive for COVID-19 as Big Ten prepares to resume play

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

Health officials in Madison and Dane County are urging fans not to gather to watch football games when the University of Wisconsin Badgers begin their season next month.

The warning came as the City of Madison health department said Wednesday that 42 players and staff with the Badger football team have tested positive for COVID-19.

Twenty-nine of the 42 cases were detected from Sept. 1 to Tuesday, health officials said.

Athletes and staff have undergone testing since returning to campus in June.

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“Of course it’s disappointing that something as well-loved as gathering to watch Badger football games can’t happen this year,” Janel Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, said in a statement. “But the reality is that it’s not possible to have a traditional football season without substantially increasing COVID-19 transmission. We value people’s health and lives over sports, and we hope that UW does as well.”

Local public health officials do not have authority over the UW-Madison campus. But they can limit gatherings outside the stadium, as a result of an emergency order.

“UW can do everything it can to control the situation inside the stadium but they cannot control what happens outside the stadium,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in an interview. “And there will be house parties. And there will be gatherings. Any decision that increases congregant settings increases the risks for spread.”

“We’re very concerned,” he added.

Separate from sports, Parisi has urged the university to go to virtual instruction. After a surge in COVID-19 cases, the school is currently in a two-week pause for in-person classes and students in two residence halls are under quarantine.

Parisi called the university’s recent moves “a step in the right direction.”

“But I think ultimately the experiment of bringing people back to school to the UW-Madison campus has failed,” he said.

Parisi said that when the residence hall quarantines end “they should test the young people and when they’re negative they should let their parents come to take them home. It would be best for my community if the university would go virtual for the rest of the semester and take a serious look at going virtual in January.”

Parisi said short of going to virtual instruction, he has asked campus leaders to “beef up their infrastructure” for contact tracing, testing and quarantining off-campus students who test positive for COVID-19.

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Journal Sentinel reporter Jeff Potrykus contributed to this report.