COVID-19 cases continue to decline across the University of Michigan campus. College students, lecturers explain why.
ANN ARBOR, MI – The 2020 COVID-19 spike at the University of Michigan did not carry over to 2021.
According to the UM database, the first week of classes last year resulted in 63 positive cases. The next week rose to 124, while a week later that number more than doubled to 289 cases. The virus hit 410 cases in the week of October 11, 2020, and that’s still UM’s record since the pandemic began.
The opposite trend can be observed this fall. Moving in week: 195 cases. The next week: 160, then 107, and last week 74.
University officials credit the campus’ vaccine and mask mandates for containing the surge. Many students and faculties also say that solidarity in adhering to safe COVID-19 practices, including mandates, drives improved metrics.
However, some say there is still room for improvement and further restrictions could be imposed.
UM mandates: in numbers
This fall, UM has a campus-wide vaccination mandate and a mask requirement in its buildings. To date, 96% of students and 95% of faculty have been fully vaccinated, nearly 30% more than the rest of Washtenaw County.
In addition to the weekly drop in the number of cases, the positive test rate has never overshadowed 2.2%. The last three reported weeks did not exceed 1% despite a weekly average of around 7,000 tests performed.
With more than 60,000 students and employees, UM makes up 16% of the county’s population according to the 2020 US census. It currently accounts for 11% of Washtenaw County’s COVID-19 cases, according to a university update confirmed by Washtenaw County’s COVID-19 database.
Read More: COVID Cases Continue To Decrease At University Of Michigan; Updates to the database
While the return to teaching in UM has contributed to increased case numbers in the county, it’s not right to highlight that, said Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw Department of Health. She points to the declining cases of UM as encouraging and instead attributes the cause of the increased virus spread to in-person learning at elementary schools and summer vacation trips.
“In mid to late August there was a lot to travel, meet and socialize,” said Ringler-Cerniglia. “That and the delta variant are more likely to drive the overall trends. In some cases we are aware that UM cases are linked to community cases, but it is not reasonable to assign (the university) to all. “
However, PhD student Ryan Glauser, co-chair of the COVID Caucus for the Graduate Employees’ Organization union, blames personal tuition at UM for spreading the virus across the county.
And UM’s Faculty Senate has forwarded several requests to university directors, including requests to allow more remote work, campus-wide notifications of close exposures to be brought back to positive cases, and more frequent testing to be required, even for vaccinated individuals.
UM President Mark Schlissel argued against every request in an email sent to the faculty on Thursday, September 30th.
“Classrooms have not been associated with confirmed transmission of COVID-19 due to the university’s obligation to mask, the high vaccination rates in the UM community, and whether or not they meet or exceed the ventilation standards of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he wrote.
Students and teachers are mostly satisfied with the precautionary measures for autumn 2021
While many UM students and teachers share some concerns about the virus, they say they have committed to following COVID-19 precautions, and those precautions are working.
Clifford Lampe, professor at the School of Information, teaches in a large lecture hall and reports “above-average attendance in class”. So far, the semester has felt “very smooth” compared to the “chaos” of 2020, he said.
Lampe recognizes students’ particular caution, including their increased distance learning skills, in the event they experience potential COVID-19 symptoms.
“A couple of times a student said: ‘I have a cold, it’s probably nothing, but I’ll stay at home,'” said Lampe. “They just do a quick test and make sure they catch up with me after class (via email). I think the students are pretty cautious overall. “
Aside from getting through a handful of “free noses” who forget to put their masks over their noses, Lampe said he saw few setbacks with campus-wide mandates and rules.
Kayla Bennett, a senior political scientist, said she had never seen anyone test positive or resist wearing masks in her class. As an immunocompromised person, she said she would stick to indulgent people.
“I made the choice to surround myself with people who wanted the vaccine and who don’t mind wearing a mask,” she said.
William Brown, a senior public order major, said everyone in his Wednesday class wears masks and maintains social distances. University policy allows teachers to kick non-compliant students out of class, and while Brown has heard rumors once or twice, he hasn’t seen it himself, he said.
Bennett and Brown expressed frustration over one thing: the discontinuation of campus-wide notifications for close university contacts. Classroom notifications were used last year to notify a class list of possible COVID-19 exposure in the classroom.
The almost unanimous vaccination of students and lecturers makes autumn 2021 a “completely different place” than last year, said Robert Ernst, director of UM’s COVID-19 Campus Health Response Committee.
“Targeted case-by-case investigations and associated contact tracing are more effective parts of the containment strategy aimed at limiting the spread,” he said.
It doesn’t hurt to provide additional communication so students can protect themselves, Bennett said.
“It didn’t really put anyone’s name or anything at risk,” she said.
The confusing communication was also annoying, said Bennett. And Lampe said it was sometimes too complicated to figure out the rules. However, the general feeling is that the rules are working, Bennett said.
“I’m happy with the actual rules that are in place,” she said.
Extra Precautions for Drama Majors
Some UM students need to take more precautionary measures than others, especially those in the performing arts, which require personal and sometimes maskless collaboration. In order to safely return to class, the School of Music, Theater and Dance needs further tests, regardless of vaccination status.
People wear masks in class and rehearsals unless they have to show emotions with their faces, which is important for teachers to see and give specific instructions, said senior citizen Margot Grom. Masks also hinder breathing when singing, she said.
The testing program the department is following reflects industry standards on Broadway, Chairman Michael McElroy said, adding that it has been negotiated with Schlissel and the university’s health authorities. From four performances so far, all tests have been negative, he said.
“We test our students 48 hours beforehand, test them during the day and then again 48 hours afterwards,” he said.
Grom and his fellow music theater major Nicholas Kraft said the additional tests were accepted.
“To be honest, the additional tests didn’t impress me at all,” said Kraft. “If it is necessary to perform in person again, I will do it. I know very well that I am not alone in this. “
Last year’s COVID-19 outbreaks resulted in campus closures, distance learning and a general fear of infection across UM campus. When it comes to fall 2021, those fears have subsided so far, staff and students said.
And Kraft was very pleased to return to face-to-face teaching this semester.
“I never want to sing into my computer screen again,” he said.
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