- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2020

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Interim University of Wisconsin President Tommy Thompson said Friday that he has a threshold in mind for when a COVID-19 outbreak would trigger campuses to shut down, but he’s not saying what it is.

Thompson, who took questions during an online Milwaukee Press Club event, said he hasn’t revealed the information to anyone. UW students are returning to campus this month as other colleges across the country have seen spikes in coronavirus cases that have led to sending students home.

“I’m not going to tell you … what my plans are as far as incidents and so on, but you can rest assured I’m looking at all of the data on a daily basis,” he said.

Asked whether the thresholds for closing a campus would be made public, Thompson said, “No.”

“They’re in my head,” said Thompson, a former U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. “Even the people around here don’t know.”

Data about testing and results will be gathered and made public, he said.

“We’re going to have cases; there’s no question about it,” Thompson said. “We want people to understand what we’re doing.”

Thompson said he was consulting with health professionals on a regular basis and he was confident that UW’s policies will be able to deal with outbreaks. But he stressed that what happens is largely up to how students behave. Classes on UW campuses, including the flagship Madison campus, resume in September.

“My message to students: ‘This is up to you,’” Thompson said. “You can go back and live in mom and dad’s basement, or you can stay at Madison or Milwaukee or Platteville, it’s up to you.”

Thompson also declined to criticize the decision by Big Ten schools not to play football or other fall sports.

“Would I like to be playing football? Of course I would. Who wouldn’t?” Thompson said. “It’s tough to be safe when you’re tackling somebody.”

The UW Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved Thompson’s two-year budget request, which includes a request for $96 million more in state funding. It now goes to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who will decide what to propose to the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Thompson, a former four-term Republican governor, said he will work to bring Democrats and Republicans together, arguing that the university is an economic driver for the state and a point of pride for everyone.

“Whether you be a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or a Communist, right now it’s time to stand up if we want to grow out of this thing,” Thompson said. “The best investment by the state of Wisconsin is the University of Wisconsin.”

Evers said he had a “good conversation” with Thompson about the budget, but it’s too early to say how much of it he would get behind in the proposal he sends to the Legislature early next year.

“I made no commitments about what I’m supporting or not supporting at this time,” Evers said.

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