Clarification Regarding Isolation vs Quarantine and Notice to Instructors

This message was sent on Sept. 8 from Karl Scholz, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, to all faculty and instructors teaching this fall 2020.

We are entering an important two-week period. Effective at 5:00 PM yesterday, Monday, September 7th, through 5:00 PM Monday, September 21st, we are calling on all undergraduate students to severely limit in-person interactions. We have reached the point where we need to quickly flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections or we will lose the opportunity to have campus open to students for the remainder of this semester.

The Chancellor has sent a message to the campus community directing all undergraduate students to restrict their activities during this time period. One allowed activity is in-person and hybrid classes. However, please be aware that students in your classes may continue to be either isolated or quarantined during this time period. There are differences in these two statuses that I want to be sure you understand.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for at least 10 days so as not to infect others. The infectious period for the virus is two weeks or less and it generally takes a few days for an infected individual to exhibit symptoms. Given this, the CDC-recommended isolation period is 10 days. While there should be no immediate health risks given masking and social distancing, instructors of hybrid and in-person classes will be notified via e-mail by UHS when a student in their class has tested positive through a campus-sponsored testing site and is in isolation. The identity of a given student will not be disclosed to you by UHS given the requirement to protect student personal health information.

Individuals who have been in close contact with a person testing positive are asked to quarantine for the CDC-recommended 14 days, given it may take 14 days for an infection to occur after close contact. “Close contact” is determined by contact tracers and is generally defined as having cumulative exposure to an infected person exceeding 15 minutes at a distance of less than six feet. Instructors will not be notified by campus officials when a student in their class is asked to quarantine, since there is no immediate health risk to the instructor or other members of the class.

Students and others will likely not adopt the language distinguishing between isolation (a positive test) and quarantine (a close contact). As noted, our procedures, developed with public health officials and respecting health and student privacy concerns, will result in instructors of in-person/hybrid course sections hearing both from a student in isolation and from UHS when the student tests positive after being tested on campus. They will hear from only the student, and not UHS, when the course section is remote or if the student must quarantine.

Please continue to find information about student health and safety at and for supporting the academic progress of students in isolation or quarantine at

Thank you for all that you are doing for our students and the UW-Madison community in this stressful time.

Karl Scholz – Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs