Pandemic blog 18: The Wisconsin Idea

The Wisconsin Idea: the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state. They drill this into you right when you are arrive; that we are not just here to teach things to the 18-22-year-olds in the room with us, but to contribute to the advancement of the state as a whole. Then after a while you start to realize it’s not just a slogan; it’s the actual value system of the institution.

I’ve been seeing it this last month. UW-Madison faculty members are doing swift and amazing work, sometimes visibly, sometimes behind the scenes. Not me, really. It’s not a time for pure math. But my colleagues! Song Gao from geography made this dashboard showing changes in mobility by county based on cellphone tracking data. Colleagues in statistics and engineering worked with the state government to pin down exactly what was meant by “14 days of decline in cases,” one of our criteria to start opening businesses. Speaking of opening businesses, Noah Williams from economics and his team at the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (caw!) wrote a report about the economic costs of the pandemic to the state and the ways we might go about opening more businesses, balancing production and safety. A friend at the med school is collecting blood from recovered patients so we can start to see how antibody levels relate to time since recovery. Thomas Friedrich from veterinary pathology is studying the genomes of viral samples around Wisconsin to understand how the disease is moving within the state. (It turns out that viruses, just like people, don’t actually move between Milwaukee and Madison that much.) My colleague/neighbor Mike Wagner from journalism just launched COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect, to foster discussion among the general public of what we’re going through. And the UW Library is working to document and archive the experience of the campus and the state during the pandemic, because we think we’ll remember exactly how this was, but we probably won’t. The Library will.

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