To All Members of the Campus Community:
It’s been wonderful to see students back on campus, classes back in person, residence halls full, and teaching, learning and research at levels we haven’t experienced in 18 months.
The residential education experience we’ve long taken pride in has returned. I again commend the thousands of faculty, staff and students who have helped us achieve this milestone in U-M’s history, through vaccination, care for our community, tireless work and preparation, and an enduring commitment to our public mission.
While the Delta variant of SARS-CoV2 has altered projections of the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have much more information than we did a year, or even a semester, ago. This is informing our health and safety response this fall.
Science and experience, as they always do, are reshaping our vision of the future. We know COVID-19 will be with us into the indefinite future, but we also have many tools to reduce risk and harm.
In the above video, U-M Chief Health Officer Preeti Malani shares observations of the first week of our semester and discusses our work to prevent serious illness.
As our society becomes more accustomed to living with COVID-19, we have in place several measures to slow spread of the virus and are tracking metrics to assess when to deploy or relax public health interventions. To be clear, these measures will decrease the spread of the virus but not eliminate it.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, the “bottom line” is that “COVID-19 vaccines protect people against severe illness, including disease caused by Delta and other variants circulating in the U.S.” What this means for U-M is that while we can never take the risk to individuals down to zero, widespread vaccination, face coverings, testing, case investigation and isolation are helping us return to in-person instruction, co-curricular activities and the joyfulness of life on our campus and beyond.
Here are the latest updates at a glance:
- Cases: U-M COVID-19 activity has increased since last week as we began our semester, but activity in the surrounding community has remained stable. U-M students represent about 5 percent of the cases in Washtenaw County.
- COVID-19 in the classroom: We’ve updated our COVID in the Classroom guide for instructors on what to expect if a student tests positive, has been exposed to COVID-19 or is ill with upper respiratory illness symptoms. For COVID-19 illness, the university will handle case investigation, appropriate notifications, quarantine and isolation, and let the student know when it’s okay to return to class. U-M is following state and county quarantine guidance. We work especially close with the Washtenaw County Health Department on measures to protect the surrounding community.
- Student scenarios: Likewise, students with questions can refer to our COVID-19 scenarios for students living in U-M Housing and off campus.
- Notifications: The university sends broad community notifications on potential COVID-19 exposures for cases on campuses, particularly those involving students with in-person classes. This is similar to the university’s process for other infectious illnesses (e.g., measles, chicken pox). The person who has tested positive will remain anonymous for privacy reasons. Additional information is available here.
- Ventilation: U-M meets or exceeds CDC guidelines for classroom ventilation, and our HVAC systems are designed to meet or exceed Michigan Building Code requirements for airflow at maximum occupancy. Additionally, custodial teams have increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces in common spaces to meet current CDC guidelines.
- Testing: COVID-19 testing is available to anyone in our community. Here’s a resource on how and when to get a test at U-M, whether you have symptoms, are a close contact, are required to be tested, or just want a test. As a reminder our asymptomatic Community Sampling and Tracking Testing Program is free for U-M community members.
- Transit changes: U-M is adjusting transit routes 7 based on feedback and challenges experienced by students.
- Briefing: Provost Susan M. Collins and I will hold a Campus COVID-19 Briefing on Friday, Sept. 10 from 9 to 10 a.m. We’ll share the latest information and answer questions from the community. I’ll send an invitation next week.
- Metrics: We’ve updated the Campus Response Metrics we will closely monitor to help determine whether more intensive interventions or policies are recommended.
- Call center: I want to remind everyone that our Campus COVID-19 Call Center serves the community by connecting them to U-M resources and support during the pandemic. To reach the call center, please call 734-936-7000. Call center hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Campus Response Metrics and Mitigation Strategies
We’ve updated the Campus Response Metrics that we closely monitor to help determine whether more intensive interventions or policies are recommended.
One key update is that the university will watch for increases in case rates for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
The metrics focus on three areas:
- Disease transmission.
- Strain on public health capacity.
- Strain on community and campus health system capacity.
Conditions that would result in a review of policies and procedures include:
- A doubling within a week of cases that involve students, faculty or staff.
- A positivity rate of 3 percent or greater among asymptomatic people participating in regular surveillance testing through the U-M COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program.
- Projections that campus isolation and quarantine housing will reach 80 percent capacity within two weeks.
- Diminished availability of inpatient and critical care beds at Michigan Medicine.
More information is also available in the University Record.
The university sends broad community notifications on potential COVID-19 exposures for cases on campuses, particularly those involving students with in-person classes. This is similar to the university’s process for other infectious illnesses, such as measles or chicken pox.
The person who has tested positive will remain anonymous for privacy reasons. Classroom notifications are general and do not include specific details related to the potential exposure. The purpose of classroom notifications is to provide awareness that a person enrolled in an in-person or hybrid class has tested positive. If you receive a notice and are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, no specific action is required of you (though the CDC recommends getting a test). As always, if you experience symptoms you should call your primary care provider, the University Health Service (students) or Occupational Health Services (faculty and staff).
If you are identified as a close contact, you will be contacted separately by the university and provided information on next steps. It’s important that individuals follow the guidance that applies to them based on their vaccination status and whether they have symptoms.
Additional information is available here.
Campus COVID-19 Briefing
Provost Susan M. Collins and I will hold a Campus COVID-19 Briefing on Friday, Sept. 10 from 9 to 10 a.m. We’ll share the latest information and answer questions from the community. I’ll send an invitation next week. Last Friday’s briefing had a lot of information about the fall, and I’ve posted the full video, with time-stamp indicators to specific questions, on the briefing page of my website. Since my last email, we’ve also posted answers to questions that we weren’t able to get to during the live briefing. These include:
- Why is natural immunity not a stronger consideration for those who have already had COVID-19?
- Can I ask someone their vaccination status?
- How are self-reports of vaccination verified to detect fraudulent reports?
- Can people who received Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine get a booster dose of an mRNA vaccine?
- Do fully remote students have to participate in weekly mandatory COVID-19 testing?
- I work exclusively from home. Do I still need to comply with the face covering policy, weekly testing and daily symptom check?
- Can instructors take their face covering off to deliver the lecture?
- The University Record spoke with several instructors about their plans for fall, and how they’re incorporating pedagogical lessons learned during remote instruction into their curricula.
- In a Michigan Medicine Health blog post, Alison Tribble, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at our C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, shared eight things parents should know about going back to school amid the Delta variant. “Children need to be in school, and we should be doing all we can to prevent COVID in schools,” Tribble said.
- We updated the student vaccination percentage on our COVID-19 Data Dashboard now that we have a better idea on our enrollment. The increase in the denominator means the percentage of fully vaccinated students now stands at 91 percent.
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. Stay safe and be healthy.
Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.