- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 7, 2021

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - University of Wisconsin students who get vaccinated for COVID-19 will no longer have to be tested weekly for the virus under a policy change that interim President Tommy Thompson on Wednesday called an incentive to bolster vaccination rates on campus.

“It’s a way for us to reward students who want to get vaccinated without telling, mandating they have to. … I don’t think mandates help,” Thompson said at a news conference announcing the change.

The change is designed to maximize the number who get inoculated before they leave campuses and return home this summer, Thompson said. The push to get as many faculty, staff and students vaccinated as possible comes as Thompson has already pledged to hold at least 75% of classes in person in the fall.

Thompson said he hoped to have 75% to 80% of people on campus vaccinated by the fall to reach herd immunity levels.

Most students became eligible for the vaccine this week when everyone in the state did. They could have gotten it earlier if they had a job or health condition that made them eligible. The university does not know how many have been vaccinated to date, but Thompson said he expects it’s a low number.

Statewide, more than 34% of Wisconsin residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the state Department of health Services. However, only about 20% of people age 18-24 have gotten one shot and less than 9% are fully vaccinated. By contrast, 77% of the high priority group of people over age 65 have gotten at least one dose and 65% are fully vaccinated.

Thompson said he has asked for more doses of vaccine to be delivered to UW campuses. Last week, UW-Madison pointed to a shortage in doses available in encouraging staff, faculty and students to search for vaccine off campus. Nearly 12,000 UW-Madison employees and students have received at least one dose of the vaccine, the university said last week.

Meanwhile, the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to go up. The percentage of positive tests over the past seven days, 3.7%, was at its highest point in two months after a steady decline that began in early January. At the height of the pandemic in mid-November, more than 17% of tests were positive.

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