I am continually impressed by the work you are doing under very challenging and stressful circumstances as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has turned our personal and professional lives upside down, as the rising number of cases and those being evaluated include members of our campus communities, friends and loved ones. There has also been a reported COVID-19 death in our state. Amidst all of this, I know you are looking for additional updates and information.
Today, I am writing to share a few new developments and additional guidance for university operations and staffing as we continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Details will vary by unit, but our overall goal is to continue operations that are critical to our mission, while protecting health and safety, diminishing spread of the virus, and to every degree possible, minimizing disruptions to employees’ lives.
“Mission critical” for this purpose is defined as the operations that support our core missions of education, research and patient care.
To achieve this, we ask all unit leaders and managers to prioritize and plan for continuity in operations that support education, research and patient care. No two units are alike at a university as large and complex as ours, so managers will define what this looks like based on the operational and health and safety needs of their units and communicate plans with employees.
We are not currently activating the university’s existing “Emergency Reduction in Operations” or “Reduction in Operations” protocols. The current situation involving COVID-19 is changing rapidly and presenting unique and unprecedented challenges. To keep us prepared, we ask managers and units to evaluate Continuity of Operations Planning in light of the current pandemic, its changing circumstances, and the potential for prolonged difficulties.
In almost all cases, this will consist of changing the way we work. In some cases, this approach may mean modifying activities, determining which projects can be postponed, or redeploying employees to appropriate work that is mission critical. In every instance, managers should work to protect health and safety, following U-M guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally, work that is currently being done or can be done remotely should be done that way with supervisor approval. Many units already have enacted plans to reduce density on our campuses while keeping work going. We’ve significantly reduced density and made our community safer, and I thank everyone who has helped us achieve this.
Academic units are continuing instruction and offering exams and finals remotely using alternative methods for the remainder of the semester. We are seeing true innovation and commitment across the university – and that is to be commended.
Please stay home when sick. This is a commitment we must make to one another. We continue to urge washing hands frequently, working from home when possible in coordination with managers, and convening remotely to reduce density – we recommend limiting in-person groups to no larger than 10. These are among the ways we can all work together to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of COVID-19 within our community and to the most vulnerable in society.
The previously announced one-time paid time-off bank for employees in the case of quarantine, isolation or family care needs related to COVID-19 exposure, illness or other related scenario is unchanged. Additionally, Michigan Medicine has enacted its own set of changes and procedures based on the needs of health providers and patient care, including an additional 120 hours, special-use PTO bank for employees who need to quarantine as a result of caring for confirmed COVID-19 patients.
We know there will be many questions, and more details on certain areas are included below. Managers will share specifics when they can, and at the university level, we will continue to post updates, information and answers to frequently asked questions on our COVID-19 information website. The university has activated its emergency call center to assist those with COVID-19 questions specifically related to U-M responses. It is available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at (877) 763-3040. For medical related questions, please call your doctor.
Facilities and buildings update
We are working to change the majority of buildings on campus to controlled access, which means that only authorized community members may enter a building using their Mcard. Please note that employees based in these buildings are still expected to work – either remotely or in person – as directed by supervisors.
A few key buildings will remain unrestricted to the public to meet mission critical needs, and others may have different hours or close completely. Those remaining open for full or modified hours include:
- University Health Services
- Trotter Multicultural Center
- Pierpont Commons
- Palmer Commons
- Michigan League
- Michigan Union
In many cases, this approach to building access is similar to what we do during winter break when campus traffic is lower. This will remain in effect until at least April 21, and units will share information when it’s available.
We are making this change due to guidance from the state and because of health, safety and security considerations, recognizing that greater numbers of staff are working remotely. Further, this change applies only to facilities that are not operated by Michigan Medicine, which already has access control protocols in place.
All members of the U-M community should carry their up-to-date Mcard with them at all times. Information on Mcard issuing stations is available here.
Earlier this week, the university closed physical public access to some buildings, including libraries, museums and fitness facilities, based on the executive order of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. To maintain the mission critical aspect of our libraries, museums, exhibits and galleries, we will continue to provide digital access.
Office of Research update
To further protect health and safety in our community, researchers across all three campuses should ramp down all noncritical laboratory research activities by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 20. This decision did not come easily, and we know that it has a large impact. We are working across the academic enterprise to minimize the impact this poses to your professional advancement, the advancement of your colleagues, and to your ability to return to fully functioning labs.
U-M will maintain minimal access to laboratories so that critical activities, including the maintenance of animals, unique reagents, and essential equipment and materials, along with research related to COVID-19, can continue. U-M also has placed temporary restrictions on human subjects research through May 1.
Research and scholarship that can occur remotely should continue, including data analysis, writing grants and manuscripts, and planning of future experiments may and should continue. For instance, some researchers are conducting interviews and gathering data remotely.
Please refer to the COVID-19: Research Operations at U-M webpage for more information.
- We have added guidance to the question of “What should I do if an employee under my supervision or co-worker is diagnosed with COVID-19?” to our Human Resources COVID-19 page.
- Beginning today, parking enforcement in Ann Arbor campus lots and structures will be temporarily modified to support the university community, including the suspension of regular enforcement on North, Central and South campuses. Medical Center Campus parking (P1-P5 structures and all parking areas that are designated with an “M” prefix) will remain enforced. Individual parking spaces (such as Gold, Service or Business Vehicle) or areas signed for 24/7 enforcement will still remain enforced on all campuses. Further details are available from Logistics, Transportation & Parking. At any time, permit holders may turn in their permit for a prorated reimbursement.
- University Housing and Michigan Dining staff continue to assist students who remain on campus. This includes health and safety accommodations in our residence halls.
- Michigan Medicine has opened its Regional Infectious Containment Unit (RICU), a 32-bed isolation unit that enhances patient care and minimizes risk of disease spread. The RICU is an important component of Michigan Medicine’s comprehensive COVID-19 planning and response program that improves safety of all patients, visitors and staff.
- U-M’s Property Disposition unit has closed to the public in response to the virus, but may have technology available to faculty and staff that is useful for remote work. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (734) 764-2470.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty and stress in our community and affected everyone. Every day, we are being asked to navigate very real concerns. In addition to worries over those who are or may be ill, we face the closing of K-12 schools, the suspension of activities like dining out, and public health imperatives that prevent us from gathering in person to connect as people or offer support. But this also is a challenge we face together, supporting one another and helping how we can.
Thank you for your outstanding efforts and commitment to the University of Michigan and all who work, study, visit and seek care on our campuses.
Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.