MADISON, Wis. — University of Wisconsin-Madison officials have announced that a cluster of students who went to Nashville and Gulf Shores, Alabama, over spring break have tested positive for COVID-19.
WKOW in Madison reported that UW-Madison’s Health Services issued a statement Friday.
“University Health Services (UHS) and Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) recently became aware of a cluster of COVID-19 cases associated with a spring break trip organized by seniors,” the announcement said.
Most of the students were members of fraternities and sororities on campus, reported WKRG in Mobile, Alabama. Their trip began around March 13 in Nashville and moved to the coast about three days later.
Most students were back in Wisconsin by March 20.
“Multiple students on this trip have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and many others are reporting similar symptoms,” the letter sent to the fraternities and sororities read, according to the Alabama news station. “These symptoms include fatigue, cough, fever, nausea, and shortness of breath. Some people will experience other symptoms like sore throat, runny nose, nausea, or headache.
“The infections thus far have been mild, but we need to keep our campus community safe from further spread.”
Health Services officials told students who were on the trip to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“You cannot report to work and need to take the utmost precautions to manage contact with others you live with. You should also not travel to a different location but rather remain at your current location,” the letter read. “If you need to seek care in person, you must call in advance to let them know of your symptoms. You may be instructed to remain at home.”
The letter stated that students would likely not be tested for COVID-19 due to a limited supply of tests, but said students “should follow all the recommendations of your healthcare provider, including isolation for at least seven days from symptom onset and for three days beyond all symptoms resolving.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 1,412 confirmed cases of the virus statewide as of Tuesday, according to WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. Twenty-eight people have died.
Officials along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Florida and Alabama, have been criticized for keeping beaches open as spring breakers ignored health officials’ warnings of the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 883,225 COVID-19 cases worldwide, with 189,753 of those in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
To show how rapidly the virus spreads without social distancing, Tectonix GEO analyzed data from mobile devices at a single Ft. Lauderdale beach during spring break. Watch where those vacationers went in the video below.
Those who enjoyed the beaches as the virus rapidly spread across the U.S. also came under fire. When an AL.com reporter arrived March 18 in Orange Beach, about 7 miles east of Gulf Shores, thousands of beachgoers lounged on the sand.
“The only Corona here is the one I’m drinking,” Scotty Grier told the reporter. “It’s no worse than other flu viruses. Bird flu and swine flu killed more. It’s a way for the government to trick people.
“Young people today have the immune system of an ox.”
A comparison between the coronavirus and flu viruses is a grave mistake, experts warn.
“It’s about 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, testified March 11 before Congress.
The flu kills between 12,000 to 61,000 people in the U.S. each year. As of Wednesday morning, 4,090 people had died here of the coronavirus since Jan. 20, when the first American case surfaced in Washington state.
Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the national coronavirus response, announced Tuesday at the White House that they anticipate between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths -- even if Americans follow the social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus.
Without mitigation, the death toll could be more than 1.5 million.
Johns Hopkins, which is tracking COVID-19 cases worldwide, also points out that the coronavirus is a new one not previously seen in humans.
“Since this disease is caused by a new virus, people do not have immunity to it, and a vaccine may be many months away,” the Hopkins website says.
AL.com reported March 19 that Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon wanted to close the beaches there but that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was reluctant to do so during tourist season.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft closed the beaches there March 20.
When asked by a WKRG reporter whether Gulf Shores’ beaches remained open too long, the city’s Director of Recreation and Cultural Affairs Grant Brown said it’s “easy to play Monday morning quarterback.”
“We don’t know exactly where the spring breakers contracted the virus, whether it was here in Gulf Shores or if they were infected when they came here or when they were coming to or from our area, but all we can all do individually is just practice the social distancing try to slow this down and be safe, wash your hands and do all the things the experts are telling us to do on a regular basis,” Brown said, according to the news station.
Brown said city leaders have been following instructions from Ivey and state health officials. He said some preventative measures began prior to the closing of the beaches.
“We took advantage of the opportunity to get additional sanitizing stations in our municipal facilities and in our public restroom facilities and started doing extra sanitation and doing all those things really early on and have followed the department of public health’s actions to the T and I feel like we’re doing everything that we can right now,” he said.
Alabama had 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, with at least 17 deaths from the virus, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. A total of 72 cases had been identified along the coast in Baldwin and Mobile counties, with two deaths in Mobile County.