Our Plan

(Read the press release announcing the plan)

To safeguard the health of the community, the university will modify many of its operations based on public health guidance.

This plan, called “Smart Restart,” outlines the university’s approach to dealing with major issues such as instruction, health and safety, housing and dining, and more. Plans are continuing to evolve as decisions are finalized and new information becomes available. As more details are available, this will be communicated on a regular basis. In particular, more information will be coming soon for graduate, professional and international students.

Below is information about the decisions that have been made at this time:

Academic Calendar

The university plans to begin fall classes as scheduled on September 2 and offer in-person instruction in many courses until the Thanksgiving recess. The course array and the modality of instruction will be 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 will rely 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 will implement a three-part testing plan:

  • On-campus, drop-in testing centers will be available to the entire campus community. Visits will be unlimited and free of charge.
  • Surveillance testing will track the prevalence of the virus on campus, including among those who are asymptomatic. Volunteer cohorts of 10 people will be tested on a rotating basis, with up to 2,000 people tested each week. This approach will allow us to identify problems quickly and target groups that may be at greatest risk.
  • Targeted testing will be required of certain groups for whom we have a special duty of care. For instance, all students and staff in the residence halls will be tested regularly. (Residents of University Apartments will not be part of this.)

Reopening testing plan

Contact tracing

The university will employ contact tracers trained in conjunction with Public Health Madison & Dane County. Dedicated rooms with private bathrooms will be 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

Everyone on campus will be required to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces, including classrooms, and outside when physical distancing is not possible. Accommodations will be made for those unable to do this for medical reasons.

Physical distancing

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


New procedures will be adopted to clean campus facilities. Students will be 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 will be expected to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 daily 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 will be 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.

Academic Instruction

UW–Madison will be fully open this fall, with a full curriculum offered through a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. While we hope that most students will be in Madison, we recognize that some may not be able to attend in person. We are making 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 will rely on physical distancing in classrooms and universal face covering requirements (in addition to testing, contact tracing and symptom monitoring).

Students will be asked to arrive on campus with their own face coverings; the university will provide additional ones as backup.

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

In addition, the university will provide cleaning supplies in each classroom that students will be 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 will be offered in person (until the Thanksgiving recess begins on November 26), and others will be entirely remote. While we are aiming to provide remote learning opportunities in all undergraduate majors and in as many graduate and professional school programs as possible, we will not be able to offer every course remotely. 

Students will receive additional information in late July about changes to their fall semester course schedule. The majority of updates to the modality (in-person or remote), day, time and location of classes will be completed at this time. Students will then have the opportunity, if desired and pending course availability, to make additional changes to their course schedules. Students should work with their academic advisor or graduate program coordinator to discuss available options and how best to continue making progress toward their degree.  

Small classes with fewer than 50 students will be offered inperson and in large classrooms to achieve physical distancing. However, this will not be possible for lecture classes with more than 100 students or for many classes with enrollments between 50 to 100. These larger classes will be delivered through high-quality remote instruction, with every attempt to hold 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 will offer 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 also will be 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,” will focus on the medical, economic, and social impacts related to pandemics. The other course, “Purposeful Action: Parkland, Protest and You,” will focus on the ways in which tragedies can generate action and change. The course will utilize 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, will determine the curriculum they will offer this fall and whether their courses will be offered remotely, in person or both. Schools and colleges, in consultation with their departments, will work with individual instructors who may have scheduling constraints or health limitations that require some adaptation.

Housing and Dining

The university intends to operate all of its residence halls in the fall, with enhanced safety protocols for shared spaces.

Reducing overall density

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

Regular testing

All students and staff in the residence halls will be 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 will limit access to residents only; no guests will be allowed.

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

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

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

Fall Reopening Guide

Workplace Plans

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

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

In order to reduce density in workplaces, work units will evaluate the best mix of in-person work versus telecommuting. In some cases, staggered hours will help reduce the number of employees in the workplace at any given time. For now, employees working remotely should continue to do so. Further guidance on returning to work will be provided in later messages.

The university will 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.

Still to come

More detailed information relating to operations this fall will be coming as our planning process moves forward. For instance, the university is in the process of evaluating its approach to various student life activities, including the Wisconsin Union, health care, student organizations, recreation programs and athletic events.

Additional information will be provided to the campus community as plans are finalized. The “Smart Restart” website also will be continuously updated. 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.