Coronavirus Shutdowns: UW-Eau Claire, Pablo Center, Library Programs, More [UPDATED]

Tom Giffey |

UW-Eau Claire is the latest Chippewa Valley institution to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, with Chancellor James Schmidt announcing Thursday that the university will extend spring break, suspend face-to-face classes, and take other measures to combat the outbreak.

In his statement, Schmidt said that all in-person classes have been canceled for the coming three weeks – from March 14 to April 3 – with spring break being extended through April 3. Existing online classes will continue during this time. And while classes will resume on April 6, they will be held entirely online through at least April 17. In the meantime, all campus locations –including dorms and dining halls – will remain open, although all university-sponsored meetings of more than 25 people have ben cancelled immediately.

“I cannot recall a week like this one in our career, and I have heard how frightening and disorienting this week has been for our entire Blugold family,” Schmidt said in a video message. “The coronavirus outbreak has caused a great deal of anxiety for everybody at UW-Eau Claire, and the fluid nature of this challenge is forcing us all to change out plans.”

On Wednesday, UW-Stout announced similar measures, telling students – who were scheduled to begin spring break at 5pm Friday – that there would be no face-to-face instruction between March 23 (the day spring break is scheduled to end) and April 5. Instruction will continue through “alternative methods,” and the university will decide by March 30 if classes will resume after April 5, UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank said in a news release.

In addition, all UW-Stout-sponsored and external events expected to draw 50 or more people are canceled through April 5. And UW-Stout said it was “working with students studying abroad in western Europe on their immediate return to the U.S.” (UW-Stout students studying abroad in Italy and South Korea have already returned.)

Universities and other large institutions nationwide have been taking similar steps in recent days: The NCAA announced Thursday it was canceling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, and the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons. The WIAA announced that it would restrict attendance to its boy’s and girls basketball state tournaments, scheduled for this week and next.

As of Thursday, there have been seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin, and Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency. (As of Friday, the number of cases in the state had grown to 19, with one patient having already recovered.)

Local impacts of the coronavirus response include:

UPDATE: All events at the Pablo Center at the Confluence through April 14 have been canceled, Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson announced Friday. Unless otherwise noted, events at the Pablo Center at the Confluence will continue as scheduled, Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson said Wednesday, but patrons who feel ill are encouraged to stay home.

• In the wake of the announcement Thursday, UWEC canceled numerous campus events, including the March 14 Shamrock Shuffle and the April 3-4 Viennese Ball. (Click for a full list.)

The L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire announced Friday that “all library programs, events, meeting room bookings, and outreach services will be suspended until further notice.” However, the library will remain open.

• The Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie will continue with its shows as planned, Executive Director Jeff McSweeney said in an email Friday.

• The 2020 Wisconsin Sports Show, slated for March 20-21 at the Chippewa Valley Expo Center, has been canceled.

• The annual French Toast Breakfast at Beaver Creek Reserve, which was scheduled for Saturday, March 14, has been canceled.

• The April Fools Day Pillow Fight sponsored by Volume One, scheduled for April 1 at the Oxbow Hotel in downtown Eau Claire, has been canceled.

• Two of the Chippewa Valley’s elected representatives – state Rep. Jodi Emerson and state Sen. Jeff Smith – announced they were temporarily closing their Madison offices to visitors

• The Eau Claire school district announced that Special Olympics Wisconsin “has suspended all practices, sports training, and competition activities” through at least April 5.

• The Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls remains open. “This is a day-by-day situation so we will adjust it as time moves on and things progress,” Executive Director Debra Johnson wrote in an email to media outlets. However, she also recommended that “vulnerable workers/volunteers/audience members/visitors carefully consider their potential risks before attending an event at the Heyde Center or other places. Tickets will be refunded to anyone concerned about their health risks.”

The list of canceled and rescheduled public events will undoubtedly continue to grow in the coming days. The state Department of Health Services has recommended “all non-essential gatherings of 250 or more people be cancelled or postponed statewide to help protect Wisconsinites from the spread of COVID-19, particularly those who are most vulnerable to infection and severe disease.” DHS also encourages event organizers to consider the following factors when considering to go ahead with smaller events:

Potential for attendance from older adults, individuals with underlying health care conditions, or other vulnerable groups
Potential for attendance from individuals from a wide range of geographic areas across Wisconsin, the United States, or other countries
The setting of the event, particularly if it involves sustained interaction between attendees in close physical proximity

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. People who are at higher risk are encouraged to avoid crowds as much as possible.”

Volume One will continue to track the impact of the coronavirus response on the Chippewa Valley. For full medical information, visit the informational websites established by the CDC, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, or the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.