Our Plan

(Read the press release announcing the plan)

To safeguard the health of the community, the university has modified many of its operations based on public health guidance. Plans continue to evolve as  new information becomes available. Details and additional information will be communicated on a regular basis.

Below is information about the decisions that have been made:

Academic Calendar

The university began fall classes as scheduled on September 2 and is offering in-person instruction in many courses until the Thanksgiving recess. The course array and the modality of instruction was determined by departments, working with the deans of their respective school or college. This will include course instruction plans for students not able to return to the U.S. for in-person instruction.

After Thanksgiving, UW–Madison will switch to a virtual format for all courses for the final nine days of instruction plus exams. This decision is based on the likelihood that students leaving and returning to Madison over the Thanksgiving recess would increase the risk for COVID-19 infections on campus.

Plans for spring semester 2021 will be announced at a later date.

Health and Safety

The university is committed to reducing the risk of COVID-19 for its students, faculty and staff. UW–Madison’s strategy relies on a rigorous approach to testing, cleaning, face covering and symptom monitoring, all aimed at keeping the risk of disease as low as possible.


Testing is key to identifying infection and keeping it from spreading. UW has implemented a three-part testing plan:

  • On-campus testing centers are available to the entire campus community. Visits are unlimited and free of charge.
  • Surveillance testing continues to track the prevalence of the virus on campus, including among those who are asymptomatic. Volunteer cohorts are being tested on a rotating basis, with up to 2,000 people tested each week. This approach allows us to identify problems quickly and target groups that may be at greatest risk.
  • Required testing for all students and staff in University Housing on a frequent basis.

Testing Plan

Contact tracing

The university has employed contact tracers trained in conjunction with Public Health Madison & Dane County. Dedicated rooms with private bathrooms are provided for students living on campus who test positive or may have been exposed to the virus and need to self-isolate or quarantine.

Testing, while essential, is effective only when combined with four other precautions: face covering, physical distancing, cleaning/hygiene, and symptom monitoring.

Face covering

Masks must be worn on campus at all times and in all places (both outside and inside), except by students in their assigned residence hall rooms, by faculty and staff when alone in a private office, and when exercising outside and maintaining physical distance. This policy includes individuals who have recovered from COVID-19. Exceptions will be determined on an individual basis, considering reasonable accommodations due to a documented medical condition.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing, or remaining at least six feet apart, is expected in all classrooms and where possible in public spaces and in workspaces.


New procedures have been adopted to clean campus facilities. Students are provided supplies to clean desks and seats before use and staff will be asked to clean their workspaces.

Symptom self-monitoring

Members of the campus community are expected to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 daily on the COVID Health Screen app and, if symptoms exist, immediately get tested and quarantine. COVID-19 educational sessions will be offered.

Personal responsibility

Preserving the health of the campus community will be a broadly shared responsibility. Students, faculty and staff on campus during the 2020-21 academic year are asked to adhere to a set of actions that protects their health and, even more importantly, protects the health of others on campus.

Equity and social justice concerns

We’re acutely aware of the many equity and social justice challenges that have surfaced during the pandemic. These include everything from higher mortality rates in low-income communities and communities of color to an upsurge in bias and hate against Asians and Asian-Americans. As we developed the Smart Restart plan, we applied an equity lens and we’ll continue to do that going forward. We recognize the need to continually build trust in this process through regular and transparent dialogue with our community.

In terms of financial support, we’ve disbursed more than $8 million so far in emergency financial aid to students and we’ve provided additional paid leave to employees.

FAQs: Student Health & Safety

Academic Instruction

UW–Madison is fully open this fall, with a full curriculum offered through a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. While we hoped that most students will be in Madison, we recognize that some are not able to attend in person. We have made plans for them as well as our on-campus students.

Health and safety in the classroom

To minimize risk to students, staff and faculty, the university relies on physical distancing in classrooms and universal face covering requirements (in addition to testing, contact tracing and symptom monitoring).

Students were asked to arrive on campus with their own face coverings; the university has provided additional ones as backup.

In-person classes abide by physical distancing guidelines and all students are required to wear face coverings in the classroom.

In addition, the university is providing cleaning supplies in each classroom that students are encouraged to use before sitting at a desk or in a chair. Each classroom will have hand sanitizer.

Hybrid course delivery

To provide options for students who can be on campus as well as those who cannot, certain courses are offered in person (until the Thanksgiving recess begins on November 26), and others are entirely remote. While aimed to provide remote learning opportunities in all undergraduate majors and in as many graduate and professional school programs as possible, we are not able to offer every course remotely. 

As of July 21, updates have been made to the Fall 2020 Course Schedule and students can now find updates to the modality (in-person or online), day, time, and location of classes.

  •  In most cases, schedule changes will not be necessary. While your schedule may not be what you planned, please remember the Covid-19 disruption calls for flexibility and understanding from us all.
  • If there are changes students want to make to their schedule, they can use the enrollment tools to make those changes on their own.
  • Students should check their UW email regularly. They will be notified of any future changes to enrolled classes by email.
  • If you determine you need an advisor’s assistance in making changes or to inform your changes, visit advising.wisc.edu/fall2020 for answers to commonly asked questions and information on how to contact your advisor.  Your advisor is likely receiving many requests for help right now. There might be a delay in their response and longer wait times for an appointment.

Some small course sections with fewer than 50 students are offered inperson and in large classrooms to achieve physical distancing. However, this is not possible for lecture classes with more than 100 students or for many classes with enrollments between 50 to 100. These larger course sections are delivered through high-quality remote instruction, with some accompanying small discussion and problem-set sessions in person for students who can attend. 

We understand remote learning may present challenges for some students based on circumstances such as living situation, student visa requirements, or access to technology. The university is investing heavily in additional technology and training to make sure that remote classes are delivered at a high level of quality, and schools and colleges are working on creative solutions for accessible course instruction  

We are making every effort to address program needs at the graduate and professional school level. However, the curriculum in some professional school programs may require hands-on training that simply cannot be converted to a virtual format. Students are encouraged to work with their program coordinators to address individual concerns. Additional information for graduate students is available at grad.wisc.edu/covid19. 

Tuition and fees will be the same whether a class is in person, virtual or a combination.

First-year experience

Because small-group experiences are especially crucial to new students, the university is offering a robust array of its popular First-Year Interest Groups, called FIGS, both in person and virtually for those who cannot be on campus. These are unique clusters of UW classes that are linked together to explore a common theme or topic, such as the environment or food cultures or global politics. About 60 FIGs will be offered this fall.

There are also two “Wisconsin Experience” courses, taught by outstanding instructors with remote lectures, but with both in-person and remote small-group discussions. One of the courses, “Forward: Pandemic, Resilience and the Wisconsin Idea,”  focuses on the medical, economic, and social impacts related to pandemics. The other course, “Purposeful Action: Parkland, Protest and You,” focuses on the ways in which tragedies can generate action and change. The course utilizes the university’s Go Big Read book, “Parkland: Birth of a Movement,” about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but will branch out to talk about other examples where tragic or unjust events generate political action, such as racial justice movements.

Departmental Academic Planning

Departments, with guidance from their respective deans’ offices, determined the curriculum they are offering this fall and whether their courses are offered remotely, in person or both. Schools and colleges, in consultation with their departments, are working with individual instructors who may have scheduling constraints or health limitations that require some adaptation.

FAQs: Advising, instruction & tuition

Housing and Dining

The university is operating all of its residence halls in the fall, with enhanced safety protocols for shared spaces.

Reducing overall density

Strategies have been evaluated to reduce overall density while still offering a space to as many students as possible. Most rooms have two residents. To facilitate physical distancing, lounge areas are rearranged and some common spaces closed.

Regular testing

All students and staff in the residence halls are tested for the virus regularly. The university is pursuing a testing method that would make collecting samples simple and easy and not involve a deep nasal swab.

Residence hall and dining facility access

To reduce the number of people entering and exiting residence halls this fall, the university is limiting access to residents only; no guests are allowed.

This policy also applies to all campus dining facilities operated by University Housing, including Gordon Dining & Event Center and Four Lakes Market inside Dejope Residence Hall. Access is limited to Housing residents and Housing staff only and is not be available to the general public, to students living off campus, or to faculty and staff not working in Housing.

Modified dining

All campus dining facilities operated by University Housing are open for the fall. However, due to the need to limit large gatherings and to reduce the number of people entering residence halls, access to these dining facilities is limited to only housing residents and housing staff through a key-card system. These facilities, including the Gordon Dining & Event Center and Four Lakes Market inside Dejope Hall, are not available to the general public, to students living off campus, or to faculty and staff not working in residence halls.

While dine-in service is available to University Housing residents at these dining facilities, an emphasis is placed on grab-and-go options.

Dining halls have seating, though with physical distancing and less density.

Fall Reopening Guide

Workplace Plans

Over the summer, we phased reopening of many areas of campus, including labs as well as workspaces. To protect employees, work on campus continues to operate differently than in the past.

All employees need to follow the health guidelines laid out above. They are expected to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. Those in shared offices are required to rearrange the workspace to ensure better physical distancing. Everyone is asked to follow cleanliness protocols and to self-monitor for symptoms.

In order to reduce density in workplaces, work units evaluated the best mix of in-person work versus telecommuting. In some cases, staggered hours help to reduce the number of employees in the workplace at any given time.

The university continues to work with staff who are at heightened risk of infection. If at all possible, the university will make reasonable accommodations that allow these employees to work in a lower-risk environment.


Questions can be sent to askbucky@uwmad.wisc.edu or call Campus and Visitor Relations at 608-263-2400.

For additional information on how the university has responded to the coronavirus, please see the COVID-19 website.