Today the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) put the undergraduate population of the University of Michigan in lock down in their dormitories. This was done over concerns about COVID-19, and means that they cannot leave their dormitories for the next 14 days other than for essential activities including classes that require in-person activity.
Among the activities curtailed were some student research projects being performed as supplemental activity or paid employment. In contrast, research as a requirement for credit courses or a thesis proposal is acceptable. Students are also allowed to go to intercollegiate athletic practices or to participate in outdoor exercise in groups of two or less.
This decision did not affect graduate students or medical students who are expected to continue to perform research and other activities.
Many are asking what prompted this decision, which although it was made by the County Health Department was supported in a statement by University President Schlissel and other University officers.
According to the WCHD, as of October 19, 2020, there had been only 4,229 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in all of Washtenaw County since the beginning of the pandemic; but despite the efforts of WCHD and U-M, there have been more than 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in students at U-M since the start of the fall semester.
For perspective, in the middle of August, prior to move-in, U-M related cases were 2% of the total Washtenaw County cases. Today, U-M related cases are 61% of the total Washtenaw County cases.
Despite the fact that the number of cases in the University undergraduate population is below several national metrics for concern (1,000 positives in 24,000+ students, or <4.2%), and there was no rise in serious COVID-19 illness in this population (University Hospital has only 18 COVID-19 patients total), these actions were taken proactively. There also was no evidence that these student cases had triggered a surge in infections in other County residents. However, several issues caused the County to take this intervention.
Concerns were raised because student COVID-19 test positives were on the rise, the student isolation dorms were filling up, and outbreaks in two dorms had required the need for social distancing. Many of the outbreaks appear to be due to parties and other social activities. Students had also not volunteered for random COVID-19 screening as readily as the University had hoped.
Maybe the most concerning issue was that the first football game is this coming Saturday with the next game on Halloween the following Saturday. These are traditional party opportunities and posed fears of larger outbreaks.
Interestingly, there are two relatively unique aspects of this order. First, WCHD says that students who live in U-M housing may only return to their permanent address if they follow U-M testing and checkout procedures (which have not yet been defined) to lower the risk that they might carry disease home with them.
If students living in Michigan Housing or having dining plans return to their permanent residence, the University is working out details to provide prorated room and board refunds or credits. The University also says these refunds will be subject to potential financial aid implications that will need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Importantly, once a student returns home, for safety reasons, they will not be allowed to return to campus.
Additionally, the WCHD also provides several metrics where the Order may be extended beyond November 3, 2020 and result in more restrictive measures being placed on students.
Those of us living in Washtenaw County appreciate the diligence of the WCHD in monitoring this situation. I am personally disappointed for the undergraduate student body which had, for the most part, conducted itself well in this unusual situation. Not surprisingly, I think many faculty may be left with some confusion about the complex and potentially inequitable interventions, and their impact on the University’s educational process.
4 thoughts on “The University of Michigan is put in lock down over COVID-19.”
For weeks University of Colorado at Boulder had students in lockdown with severe restrictions on gatherings—with consequences for those who understood what they were or how to spell ‘consequence’. Just this week, CU lifted the SIP and gathering restrictions — we’ll see how that plays out in a place where college students are big financial influencers (tuition, local rent, more liquor please, happy hour, etc.) So I hope y’all will fare this latest storm. To the UM students: Here’s what’s more uncomfortable than staying in your room or wearing a mask—being on a ventilator, gasping for your next breath, blood clots in your lungs and kidneys, no health insurance to care for your basic needs, death by suffocation because you can’t breath—I’m sure I left something out. Thank you Dr Baker for your wise counsel—I hope the community is listening.
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Interesting we have comments from people who have experience with CU. I was an undergrad at CU for 2 yrs. I have also worked for U of Michigan.
Two different campus. It will be interesting to see how the SIP reduces spread on both campuses & their cities/ counties. In my opinion, CU might be in a better position to have a SIP reduce the spread and protect the city of Boulder. Maybe I am wrong but the dorms at CU weren’t as large as the 1,200 per student dorms at U of M. U of M’s buildings are more integrated into Ann Arbor as a whole. U of M rents buildings throughout the city.
I also agree this year’s college experience at any college will not be the “typical “ college experience that some of us enjoyed. Both universities have huge medical centers & research programs. I can’t speak for CU but I know U of M lost over $1M due to lack of reimbursement for the extra expense to care for COVID patients. I can’t apologize for the high tuition at either institution. Balancing the income & expenditures for students, patients, and research (especially for diseases such as COVID) is not easy. As a former administrator, I was never faced with quite a situation as this pandemic. Layoffs, reduction in services etc are very difficult decisions to make.
Dr Baker knows me as an administrator who didn’t always have enough funding to hire all the staff he needed. He is a brilliant physician, researcher & fantastic blogger.
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I appreciate this blog but I can’t for the life of me understand why we are continuing to pull the levers we are pulling for a disease with a that has a .4% ICFR overall and dropping. The medical community has done an amazing job and treatments improve every month. We now know that the risk for college students is less than the flu. I don’t even have a problem with this 2 week shutdown as unchecked spread is not the best policy for any contagious disease.
I do have a problem with the attitude of how we treat these kids – just want blame these kids and scold them. You are disappointed with them. Mary wants them all scared to die or have permanent lung damage. My daughter goes to Boulder. She masked up and didn’t party. She still got it and it was a one day cold.
They live in dorms and close quarters and don’t even know they have it. There is only so much you can do stop this virus. It is not hard to keep them away from spending 15 minutes inside with those that are vulnerable-that should be the focus. They are not running around coughing on grandma. Let’s give them some empathy.
If you are going to invite them back to campus and charge full tuition, treat them like the customer and adult citizens that they are. Its the not the same experience for them. This generation now has trillion in extra debts and deficits that they will have to pay back and a lousy economy for those that graduate this year and probably next year. I know of more kids in the under 25 group that have committed suicide or overdosed than were even hospitalized for COVID. Suicide vs Covid in this age group is not even close yet everyone wants to scold and blame the kids.
Ironically these kids are a huge voting block and likely will face the choice in the future of massive cuts in Medicare and Medicaid to balance the budgets.
I am not trying to be jerk or pretend the virus is not real. I just have college/high school kids and have biases towards their perspective. Thanks for your work on this blog.
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