To All Members of the Campus Community:
With our winter term beginning Wednesday, we want to provide an update on important health and safety measures for our community. As we wrote last week, our goal remains to prioritize our educational, research and service missions, including providing the best possible educational experiences for our students, largely in person, while doing so as safely as we can for all members of the community.
We need everyone’s help to make this happen. There are several important steps we can all take as in-person classes begin this week and more of our faculty and staff return to campus after the break.
- Mask up indoors – While the Omicron variant is more easily transmissible, masking remains an important and effective tool for preventing spread of all COVID-19 variants (and the flu), despite some claims to the contrary. This is why we’ve broadened our indoor masking requirement. Please limit time spent eating or drinking in crowded areas to keep masks on. There is currently no evidence that the Omicron viral particle can penetrate masks more efficiently than prior variants. Thus, diligent masking with quality masks should continue to provide a strong barrier of protection in our classrooms as it did last fall.
- Get boosted and report your status – COVID-19 boosters are required for all students, faculty and staff. Please upload your booster information using the form in Wolverine Access as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that clinical trials have shown “that a booster shot increased the immune response,” and as we noted last week, vaccination offers protection against severe illness and symptomatic infection with Omicron as well as other variants. Information on getting a booster, including upcoming clinics as early as Jan. 5, is available here.
- Get tested – Rapid tests and the Community Sampling and Tracking Program’s PCR tests allow us to take action to prevent spread. We’re providing rapid antigen test kits to all students living on campus, which will meet the residence hall arrival testing requirement. Details will be provided directly to residence hall students by Student Life staff. We strongly encourage testing for all members of the campus community, regardless of vaccination status, if you’ve traveled before resuming in-person work, school or social activities.
- Stay home if you’re sick – We join the CDC and campus health leaders in emphasizing the message that if you’re sick, you need to stay home and seek appropriate care and testing. This is an important measure for caring for yourself and preventing spread to others.
These measures are designed to reduce the risk of severe illness as the campus repopulates and in-person activities resume. The booster, testing and enhanced masking requirements were put in place in anticipation of rising cases stemming from the Omicron variant, and they will supplement the effectiveness of our high vaccination rate and existing mask policy.
Our classrooms, with required vaccination and masking, have remained safe throughout the pandemic. With the vast majority of students back in Ann Arbor, we do not believe that a period of remote instruction would appreciably decrease the predicted spread of COVID-19 in the weeks ahead.
We expect these first few weeks of the semester to be challenging and ask everyone to care for yourselves and for one another by staying safe and practicing kindness during what will be a stressful time for many. Cases are very likely to increase, regardless of decisions we make about in-person work or classes.
Hospitalizations locally and around the country may also surge in coming weeks. Current data suggest that masked, vaccinated, boosted individuals interacting with other masked, vaccinated, boosted individuals won’t substantially increase the health system burden.
Recognizing this in advance can help to make a surge in cases less stressful. Unlike in 2020 when we all needed to stay home to flatten the curve, today we know that together, we can take the steps that have been demonstrated to prevent severe illness and ensure that we can have a successful semester.
Additionally, we continue to work collaboratively with campus health experts and academic leaders to advance our mission safely, monitor COVID-19 locally and beyond, assess campus and classroom safety, and respond as conditions change. We’re also closely monitoring our health care infrastructure, which continues to have adequate capacity to care for COVID-19 patients – though more widespread vaccination and boosting in the region would greatly diminish the number of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals and clinics, and the stress on our health care providers.
Here are a few additional updates based on questions we’ve heard from the community:
- Quarantine and isolation guidelines – We’ve posted information on the CDC’s recently updated Q/I guidelines that shortens the recommended time for isolation after infection or close contact with an infected person. The update reflects the latest knowledge of the Omicron variant, and as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has said, they “ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
- Athletic event attendance requirements – Michigan Athletics has shared additional details about the vaccination or negative test requirement for indoor event attendance.
As we reaffirm the importance of in-person engagement, especially for our students, we also recognize the need for flexibility to navigate challenges as the semester begins. We ask instructors to be flexible with students who are sick, and faculty and staff should not come to campus if sick.
We are grateful to all of you for your diligence in keeping our community as safe and healthy as possible as we embark on a new term at the University of Michigan.
Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.
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 next week.