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Legislative committee: UW System virus moves need our OK (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican-controlled legislative committee moved Tuesday to block the University of Wisconsin System from taking several steps to fight the spread of coronavirus without its approval.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports the committee’s move comes as university officials in Madison are weighing a campuswide mask mandate as well as expanded testing requirements for people who haven’t been vaccinated.

It also comes as the delta variant is sending daily virus cases upward in Wisconsin and around the U.S.

The vote by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules came without a formal meeting or public comment. It requires the UW System to submit any plans for COVID-19 policies to the committee as emergency rules within 30 days — or else drop mandates for any such measures, the State Journal reported.

The committee could then vote to suspend all or parts of the measures.

System spokesman Mark Pitsch said the committee’s action “feels like a political statement; our focus is to ensure we are doing what needs to be done now to safely open for in-person teaching this fall.”

Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said in a statement that government mandates and lockdowns “have failed miserably in dealing with this virus.”

“The path forward in addressing Covid-19 is not through excessive government mandates, but in the restoration of Americans being able to make voluntary informed decisions based on their individual health circumstances,” Nass said.

The committee’s four Democratic members all voted against the measure. They said the move is contrary to public health recommendations.

“Legislative Republicans sat idly by for nearly a year, refusing to lift a finger to help stop the spread of COVID or address the economic devastation it caused,” Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, said in a statement. “Now, they’re doing something even worse — abusing their positions to ensure that the virus spreads faster, by discouraging vaccination and masking and taking legally dubious steps to stop reasonable mitigation practices.”

UW-Madison currently plans to require weekly testing for unvaccinated students living on campus this fall. Officials also are discussing whether to extend the testing requirement to include all unvaccinated students and employees. Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Monday a decision may come later this month.

Elsewhere, city and county leaders in Madison and Dane County announced Tuesday that public employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19. They also will have to wear masks in city and county buildings, and so will visitors.

Employees who can’t prove vaccination will have to be tested weekly, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said.

Coronavirus cases in the city and county have gone up 111% in recent weeks, but hospitalizations and deaths have stayed stable. Dane County’s vaccination rate of nearly 70 percent is highest in the state.

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