1. Omicron variant planning update; get a booster as soon as you can

    December 28, 2021

    To All Members of the Campus Community:

    We hope everyone is enjoying winter break and finding time to relax and spend time with loved ones. In the days since the end of the fall term and our first in-person commencement in two years, we’ve continued to monitor the spread of the Delta and Omicron variants and adapt our health and safety strategies as we prepare to safely resume in-person instruction as scheduled on Jan. 5.

    Some institutions have decided to begin winter semester instruction online, leading to questions from many in our community about our winter term plans. We want to share our latest thinking and assessments of where U-M is with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we did during the fall, we are working together among the Campus Health Response Committee, executive team, deans and other academic leaders to provide the best possible educational experiences for our students as safely as we can and largely in person.

    The measures outlined below are designed to diminish spread and prevent severe illness while preserving residential education. We are prioritizing student learning, the pedagogical needs of our academic programs, and the enriching classroom interactions that can’t be fully replicated remotely. We also build on our successful experiences last semester, very high levels of vaccination, and excellent compliance with our rules around indoor face coverings.

    In recent semesters we’ve learned that students return to Ann Arbor in conjunction with the start of any new term whether classes are primarily online or in person. In addition, our classrooms, with required vaccination and masking, have remained safe throughout the pandemic. Therefore, in Ann Arbor, we do not believe that an initial period of remote education will significantly diminish spread of COVID-19. In recognition of the activity of COVID-19 locally and nationally, however, we will implement additional public health measures with the goal of limiting spread of the Omicron variant and continuing our important work.

    We know more about the Omicron variant, and U-M Chief Health Officer Preeti Malani (published in JAMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that we have the tools to combat Omicron, and they begin with vaccination and boosters.

    Given the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic, we will have to remain flexible moving forward and change course if circumstances dictate.

    COVID-19 boosters: Our most important tool

    Get a booster as soon as you’re eligible wherever you can. They are widely available. As Dr. Malani and her coauthors note: “While vaccination does not prevent all infections, thus far vaccination has provided protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death” and “a booster increases the protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron to about 75%.”

    We’re requiring booster shots for all faculty, staff and students under the U-M vaccination policy not later than Feb. 4, but we urge you to get boosted as soon as you are eligible. Michigan Medicine is also requiring booster shots under the policy and will be providing details of their implementation plan next week.

    We estimate that at least 25 percent of students on the Ann Arbor campus already have received boosters – so we’re well on our way to again leading our state in vaccinations. We’ll ask everyone to self-report their booster status shortly after the first of the year. Enforcement mechanisms for those who remain non-compliant will begin on Feb. 4.

    Here are additional measures we are implementing and recommendations for winter term:

    • Residence hall student testing required – We’re requiring all students living in the residence halls to test for COVID-19 upon arrival to campus through the CSTP, which resumes Jan. 3. Please sign up for your timeslot. Until you receive your test result, please keep your mask on and limit social interactions. CSTP testing will continue to be available for all members of the university community as in the fall semester and required weekly of anyone who has an exemption to our vaccination policy.
    • Face coverings required in additional places – We’re requiring everyone to wear a face covering, regardless of vaccination status, while in common areas of our residence halls and in campus recreation facilities through at least Jan. 17. The U-M indoor and transit mask requirement will remain in effect.
    • Vaccination requirement for ticketed events – Beginning Jan. 1, we’ll require vaccination or proof of a negative test for attendance at ticketed events, including Athletics and on-campus SMTD performances. Our University Musical Society already has such a requirement. More details will be shared once they are final.
    • Stay home if you’re sick – Keeping away from others when symptomatic is essential to preventing spread of COVID-19 (and the flu). We ask instructors to be flexible with students who are sick, and employees should not come to campus if sick. If you have symptoms, get tested through UHS if you’re a student, or either OHS or your personal physician if you’re a faculty or staff member.
    • Travel and post-travel recommendations – We strongly encourage all students, faculty and staff, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested if they have traveled, even if it’s using an at-home rapid antigen test. Please do this before attending any social gatherings when you return. We also recommend using face coverings that meet higher standards (such as KN95s) during air travel. The CDC has posted information on the different types of face coverings.
    • Additional cautions – Please be extra careful when eating and drinking around others in large groups and try to minimize the time spent not wearing your mask. Our dining halls will continue to offer grab-and-go options. We recommend not serving food or drink at on-campus convenings. We also recommend avoiding indoor off-campus social gatherings where people are likely to be unmasked or unvaccinated.

    Additional details are available in the University Record. We’ll also be updating the Campus Maize and Blueprint site once we further examine the CDC’s quarantine and isolation guidance.

    Over the break, some of us have experienced holiday events where family members were unable to attend due to testing positive for COVID-19. The more-rapid spread of the Omicron variant, now the dominant strain in the United States, means that greater case numbers are likely here, as they have been around the state and nation. These cases seem to be milder than earlier in the pandemic, and those who are vaccinated and boosted almost never get seriously ill.

    We ask for everyone’s continued vigilance and care as we tackle this next phase of the pandemic. Both of these qualities were essential to our fall term’s success.

    Your vigilance to health and safety measures allowed our students to progress academically, our research enterprise to thrive, and the college experience to return, at last, to our campus. Often, COVID-19 was less prevalent on campus that it was in the surrounding community. At the same time, your willingness to care for and support one another helped our community prevail, together, through months of draining and seemingly relentless challenges.

    Thank you for your commitment to the University of Michigan.

    Sincerely,

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

    Susan M. Collins, Ph.D.
    Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs


    Campus COVID-19 Briefing scheduled

    President Mark S. Schlissel and Provost Susan M. Collins will hold a Campus COVID-19 Briefing on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, from 10 to 11 a.m. We’ll share the latest information and answer questions from the community. An invitation will be sent that week.