Staying safe this fall
Now that we are a month into the semester, University of Michigan Chief Health Officer (and Michigan parent) Preeti Malani reports that cases have been increasing the last two weeks. In the video below, she shares updates on our campus and how we can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In response to suggestions from the community, our COVID-19 dashboard now includes positive U-M cases reported by off-campus sources. Though we’ve always tracked total cases in conjunction with the Washtenaw County Health Dept., we want our dashboard to reflect campus community conditions as accurately as possible. We have also added to the dashboard a new section with data on surveillance testing. These changes follow community requests for more detailed information.
The University Record has additional information about our recent dashboard improvements.
Also, these numbers are adjusted after initial posting as we learn more about the onset of cases and as additional results are reported from outside labs. Our dashboard presents data from multiple U-M, county, and state sources (the full explanation is here). We continue to work in close partnership with the health department to provide data and keep the community safe.
I want to emphasize the importance of students being tested at the University Health System (UHS), especially in light of the numbers of positive cases that we are seeing identified by off-campus testing.
The benefits of having the test completed at UHS rather than an outside facility include the rapid turnaround time for results thanks to lab staff at Michigan Medicine, use of the most accurate test available (PCR), and that we can begin case investigation and contact tracing more quickly, diminishing spread of COVID-19. The health department shares positive and probable cases from outside tests involving Michigan students; however those extra steps introduce a delay. Information and videos by our campus experts on this topic are available here.
Students isolated with a positive test or those instructed to quarantine due to exposure are not necessarily required to do so on North Campus. Sometimes this can happen at a current residence or permanent home depending on the nature of those living arrangements. In addition, we have worked hard to improve the quality of U-M isolation and quarantine housing and have made significant progress.
As part of our efforts to address your concerns and provide information more clearly, we also have changed our Campus Maize and Blueprint site to feature a section called “Top Frequently Asked Questions” on the site’s front page.
Our Environment, Health, and Safety department and the county health department are addressing about 25 recent positive cases arising in student off-campus congregate living residences. Student Life is offering information and support, as well.
As noted earlier, 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.
South Quad pop-up testing
On Sept. 17, there were 19 confirmed positive cases in our South Quad residence hall. U-M’s Environment, Health, and Safety Dept. and the Washtenaw County Health Dept. 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.
Our UHS, in collaboration with campus partners and volunteers created a “pop-up” site to test all students residing on two specific floors of South Quad. As of Sept. 21, the 221 test results received all came back negative indicating that the infection had not spread beyond the initial groups of students.
These additional students were tested out of an abundance of caution, as none of them were identified as close contacts and none were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
We’ve posted more details online. This includes a Michigan Minds podcast with Lindsey Mortenson, acting UHS director, who further describes this testing effort. I join Dr. Mortenson in thanking the students who stepped up to be tested in this important health and safety effort collaboratively implemented by UHS, our School of Public Health, and U-M Housing.
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 in early October 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.
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 to 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 Dept. — 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 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 Dept., 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 Dept. 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 month, the Big Ten announced plans and safety protocols that will allow us to resume fall sports, including football.
When the league decided in August 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 the playing fields and practice facilities are free of virus, and a protocol for cardiac evaluation that will 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 as of this writing (Sept. 18), 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.
- The Office of the Vice President for Research has organized a committee to address inequities induced or exacerbated by COVID-19 across the research community. Led by Professors Tabbye Chavous and Huda Akil, the committee will partner with colleagues from across our three campuses to reduce these negative impacts on researchers’ scholarly progress, productivity, and opportunity to thrive, and help support an equitable, diverse, and robust research environment. Vice President for Research Rebecca Cunningham will share more information about this committee with the University community in the coming weeks.
- The U-M Library has expanded its by-reservation study hours in the Shapiro Library and borrowing services and contactless pickup at multiple locations. More information is available in the University Record, and the Library has full details on its site.
Autumn has begun and the days are starting to become cooler. Please make every effort to follow the rules around wearing a face covering, avoiding crowds, keeping the proper distance, and washing your hands more frequently as socializing moves indoors. You can enjoy yourself, stay healthy, and protect others by being smart about COVID-19 risk.
During the semester, I am providing weekly COVID-19 updates to help keep everyone informed, 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, MD, PhD