1. Campus COVID-19 Update: Observations one month in

    September 24, 2021

    To All Members of the Campus Community:

    I want to share a few observations and facts from the first month since we resumed activities as a residential campus. Our campus is fully populated, we’re teaching and learning in person, and we’re enjoying a more traditional Michigan experience.

    Public health measures are working at the University of Michigan, and I want to thank everyone for their shared commitment to our collective health.

    More than 95 percent of our students, 95 percent of our faculty and 82 percent of our staff are vaccinated, and there has been outstanding compliance with our indoor face covering policy. Vaccination and masking have significantly mitigated the potential impact of increased class density on disease transmission.

    Updates at a glance:

    • Cases trending downward: We’ve had about 407 cases of COVID-19 among our students since Aug. 21, and 160 among faculty and staff. Cases peaked after the initial repopulation of the campus, and have drifted downward since.
    • Comparisons to last year: In distinction from the previous academic year, we’re not seeing clusters of cases in residence halls or in off-campus group housing, with the exception of a single 15-case cluster in one off-campus house. Similar to last year, contact tracing has yet to detect transmission due to classroom contacts. This is very reassuring.
    • Student positivity rates and symptoms: Our University Health Service has been very busy treating students, but most who come in with symptoms have colds or other mild viral illnesses. Since the first week of classes, UHS COVID-19 positive test rates have shrunk from 10 percent of those with symptoms to 2.5 percent this week. Like last year, those with COVID-19 generally have mild symptoms. Our Community Sampling and Tracking Program asymptomatic screening test positivity rate is 0.28 percent this week.
    • Wastewater surveillance: Our monitoring of sewage on and near campus has shown findings that correlate very closely with the identified case counts. The system showed an initial increase followed by a progressive decline.
    • Transit service change: Logistics, Transportation and Parking will restore campus bus routes to those that were in place before the pandemic, beginning Oct. 24.
    • Briefing: Provost Susan M. Collins and I will hold a Campus COVID-19 Briefing on Friday, Oct. 8 from 10 to 11a.m. We’ll share the latest information and answer questions from the community. I’ll send an invitation that week.
    • Flu shots: We highly recommend flu vaccination. U-M faculty and staff working on campus or remotely have several options for receiving their flu vaccination. Students can get a flu shot at UHS.

    Campus Conditions

    Public health measures are working at the University of Michigan, and I want to thank everyone for their shared commitment to our collective health. We attribute this to our very high levels of vaccination providing significant protection against infection and creating low rates of transmission to other vaccinated persons.

    More than 95 percent of our students, 95 percent of our faculty and 82 percent of our staff are vaccinated, and there has been outstanding compliance with our indoor face covering policy. Vaccination and masking have mitigated the potential impact of increased class density on disease transmission. Our classroom ventilation systems also meet or exceed CDC classroom guidelines.

    Our vaccination and face covering policies are the primary measures that are responsible for the reduction in campus COVID-19 cases we’ve seen since the repopulation of campus.

    We’ve had about 407 cases of COVID-19 among our students since Aug. 21, and 160 among faculty and staff. Cases peaked after the initial repopulation of the campus, and have drifted downward since. We’ve noted that an initial increase in cases was expected, with tens of thousands of people coming to our campus, and is consistent with other large universities monitored by our Campus Health Response Committee.

    There are important details that accompany those case counts.

    In distinction from the previous academic year, we’re not seeing clusters of cases in residence halls or in off-campus group housing, with the exception of a single 15-case cluster in one off-campus house. Similar to last year, contact tracing has yet to detect transmission due to classroom contacts. This is very reassuring.

    Our wastewater surveillance also correlates very closely with the identified case counts. We monitor sewage on and near campus (including Michigan Stadium), and those data show an initial increase followed by a progressive decline. This is an important layer in our work, and it indicates that we have not missed seeing cases, as we’re not requiring asymptomatic testing in vaccinated individuals.

    It’s important to mention that COVID-19 activity has been increasing across the state and is currently in what is considered to be the high range based upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria. The rate of climb has not been as steep as we saw during spikes that occurred before vaccines were available.

    Highly vaccinated counties in Michigan are faring better. As of last week, the trend in Washtenaw County was overall flat, as it ranked 75 out of 83 Michigan counties in terms of the population-adjusted rate of new cases. Our county is also top in the state in testing.

    UHS Symptom Reports

    Our University Health Service has been very busy treating students, but most who come in with symptoms have colds or other mild viral illnesses.

    UHS data also demonstrates that cases are trending downward. During that initial week of classes, 10 percent of those presenting to UHS with symptoms tested positive for COVID-19.  Over the subsequent two weeks that percentage dropped to just under 5 percent. Through the first two days of this week, it was down to 2.5 percent.

    Additionally, the symptoms of those who test positive for COVID-19 are almost all very mild, similar to last year. UHS is seeing runny noses and sore throats, but far fewer with fever or more severe coughs and chest symptoms.

    Additional updates

    I will continue to provide COVID-19 updates when needed to help keep everyone informed, address concerns and respond to feedback and questions from our community. You also may read the University Record for the latest stories and the Campus Maize and Blueprint site for updates.

    As you enjoy our Homecoming Week, please stay safe and be healthy.

    Sincerely,

    Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.
    President