To All Members of the Campus Community:
Faculty, students and staff continue to share their concerns about the need for greater testing resources, more detailed and timely information about cases in our university community and other ways to help them stay safe. We’re working hard to put these ideas into action.
This week’s update contains information in all of these areas, and important changes to our Ambassador Program based on feedback.
The campus COVID-19 Dashboard now displays case numbers listed by residence hall. We will update this data weekly upon verification by the State of Michigan’s Disease Surveillance System. We have also added to the dashboard a new section with data on surveillance testing. These changes follow community requests for more detailed information.
It is very important that U-M students who feel ill or are concerned about possibly contracting COVID-19 get their testing done through UHS. It’s fast and easy. We do get reports from the county health department about U-M students testing positive at off-campus facilities, but this slows down the essential steps of case investigation and contact tracing that can help prevent spread to others.
South Quad update
As of yesterday, there have been 19 confirmed positive cases in our South Quad residence hall. U-M’s Environment, Health and Safety Department and the Washtenaw County Health Department have identified this as a cluster.
After extensive investigation, the majority of the cases were found to be connected, but three cases are not associated and have no known source of exposure. While this can happen at any time during a pandemic situation, we are taking additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the building. All positive cases and close contacts have been moved to isolation or quarantine, and all residents of the involved floors are being tested. More information has been posted to the Public Health Community Notices section of our dashboard.
Expanded surveillance testing
We have entered into an agreement to begin offering saliva-based COVID-19 diagnostic surveillance testing on the Ann Arbor campus. This new type of testing will begin early next month and allow the university to increase surveillance testing capacity to up to 6,000 individuals per week through the voluntary U-M COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking program.
Please sign up for this free COVID-19 testing program using the link in the previous sentence. So far, more than 5,700 students, faculty and staff have volunteered, and more than half are students who live off campus.
The company providing the testing services under the new agreement is LynxDX, a startup spun off of intellectual property developed on our campus.
Public Health Community Notifications
We have heard a number of questions related to the public health community notifications that we post to make the community aware that there were people who tested positive for coronavirus in a particular U-M building during their infectious period. We recently began posting these notices in a section on our public dashboard. The notices are posted as soon as they are available.
When a U-M student, staff or faculty member tests positive for COVID-19, a dedicated team of staff, case investigators and contact tracers — working within U-M’s Environment, Health & Safety Department — take steps to prevent the spread of the disease by isolating infected individuals and quarantining those who have been exposed to the virus and are at risk of developing COVID-19.
EHS leads contact tracing and issues notifications on campus because of staff familiarity with the campus community, ability to act swiftly to identify and contact individuals and because of the department’s years of experience handling infectious disease outbreaks.
It is critically important that all community members make themselves available to speak with these staff if they reach out to contact you. This is an important part of our efforts to prevent the spread of infection.
EHS works in partnership with the Washtenaw County Health Department, as well.
This is described in greater detail here.
Wolverine Culture of Care’s new phase
In response to broad feedback from student organizations and campus groups and the need to continually evolve amid the changing conditions of the pandemic, the Wolverine Culture of Care initiative is refocusing its health and safety efforts.
The university’s COVID Reporting Line (734-647-3000) and voluntary address and phone registry for students living off campus will remain important components of our community health and safety efforts. Our Division of Student Life set up the voluntary registry to promote outreach that reduces the need for law enforcement interventions. This has been working well, and I invite all students living off campus to sign up.
The initiative changes also include discontinuing the use of students, faculty and staff to canvas surrounding campus neighborhoods through the Michigan Ambassador program.
While the university’s Division of Public Safety and Security and the Ann Arbor Police Department will maintain their regular on and near-campus area work, non-emergency calls into the COVID Reporting Line will continue to be answered by Student Life staff and volunteers, and if no contact information is available for a reported address, DPSS staff will attempt to reach the residents prior to the involvement of AAPD.
Additional information on changes to the Wolverine Culture of Care program is available here.
Big Ten announcement
Earlier this week, the Big Ten announced plans and safety protocols that will allow us to resume fall sports, including football.
When the league decided early last month to postpone fall sports, it was because our medical experts were not confident in the ability to prevent coronavirus transmission during full practices and competitions, especially in contact sports. In addition, there was deep concern about reports and preliminary investigations of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, in people recovering from COVID-19. It was feared that the combination of intense exercise and myocarditis could be particularly dangerous for our student-athletes.
In the intervening weeks, a task force worked out procedures, including the use of a newly available FDA approved daily viral antigen test that could assure that the playing fields and practice facilities were free of virus, and a protocol for cardiac evaluation that would screen for myocarditis and other potential heart issues before allowing a recovering student to return to practice or competition. Testing will be paid for by the league, and this will not affect testing capacity on our campus. We are relying on daily testing for student athletes since their sport does not allow them to use methods to prevent the spread of disease available to everyone else —masks, social distancing and the avoidance of interacting with large groups of people.
- Our ResponsiBLUE health screening tool is now available as a free app for Android and Apple devices. The self-screens continue to be an important layer in our health and safety plans. In addition to daily use of the new app, I continue to urge everyone to follow our rules requiring that you wear face coverings when on campus.
- To date, U-M researchers on all three of our campuses have submitted more than 800 proposals to pursue COVID-related research, launched more than 320 COVID-related research projects, and authored more than 600 COVID-related publications, advancing our knowledge of the virus and its impacts on our communities.
- Two U-M researchers tested positive for COVID-19 this week, bringing the total cases among researchers since March to nine. EHS is managing contact tracing to protect the health and safety of our research community, and at this time, there is no indication of any virus transmission between laboratory or research coworkers.
During the semester, I am providing weekly COVID-19 updates to help keep everyone informed and address concerns and respond to feedback and questions from our community. You may also view the University Record for the latest stories and the Campus Maize and Blueprint site for updates.
Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.