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The ResponsiBLUE application has been updated and expanded for the Winter 2021 semester. The University of Michigan first launched ResponsiBLUE during the Fall 2020 semester to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, aid in circulating public health knowledge and ensure student safety.

University Information and Technology Services developed ResponsiBLUE in partnership with the University leadership and the Office of Research. The app, which can also be accessed in the form of a website, was initially developed and released as a tool for symptom tracking. 

The app asks students to self-report COVID-19 symptoms. During the Fall 2020 semester, students were not supposed to be allowed to enter any U-M buildings or dining halls for 18 hours if they reported symptoms.

In an effort to minimize any COVID-19 outbreaks during the Winter 2021 term, the University has put in place weekly mandatory testing for all undergraduate students who live on campus, are registered for an in-person or hybrid class or come to campus for research, work or have other activities in campus buildings. Several students on campus, like LSA freshman Macy Hannen, have already used the new COVID-19 testing system. Hannen has been tested twice since returning to the University and said the new program was very efficient. 

“I’ve had a really positive experience,” Hannen said. “It’s been easy to sign up and the two times I’ve gotten tested, since I’ve been back, it’s taken all of two minutes in total to get it. Definitely the regular testing gives me a lot more peace of mind and makes me feel better.”

ResponsiBLUE has been updated this semester to track students’ mandatory weekly testing. It now displays a student’s testing status by noting a “COMPLETED” or “EXPIRED” status at the end of the symptom check process. 

New in the winter semester, to access campus buildings and facilities students must have a completed, negative COVID-19 test from a U-M lab and not report any symptoms. However, the ResponsiBLUE app does not display student’s test results. 

In an email to The Michigan Daily, Public Affairs Representative Lauren Love wrote students should not go to work or class if they have either an ‘EXPIRED’ COVID-19 test, have reported symptoms of COVID-19 or both.

“Because people can be infected with COVID-19 and not show any symptoms, students living off campus who do not have a regular need to come to campus still are encouraged to participate in routine COVID-19 testing through the Community Sampling and Tracking Program to help protect the health of the U-M community,” Love wrote.

Love also wrote that if a student tests positive they must enter into a period of isolation and for 90 days after their positive test their ResponsiBLUE app will read “COMPLETED.” After a period of 90 days, the student is expected to resume testing per CDC guidelines. These guidelines and recommendations may change to meet the needs of the U-M community as the state of the pandemic evolves over the course of the winter term.

These changes are being instituted after sharp spikes in cases last semester and widespread criticism from the University community over administration’s lax handling of COVID-19 policies. For example, Engineering freshman Sam Sugarman told The Daily he didn’t pay close attention to filling out the ResponsiBLUE questions last semester and that it was mostly a means to use campus facilities.

“For me, last semester ResponsiBLUE was mostly just a click-through thing to go get my food,” Sugarman said.

However, Sugarman said he feels much more comfortable participating in student activities this semester due to the added safety and convenience of the new mandatory testing system. 

“I want to be sort of continually safe for those I’m around a lot, especially as I’m deciding to rush this semester, I’m going to be around a lot more people,” Sugarman said. “I feel like I will participate. I mean it’s just walking over to Palmer and putting a little spit in a bottle and just waiting for your results. It’s a really simple process.”

The app now includes daily reminders to fill out the symptom check survey developed last semester. Hannen says while it was a step in the right direction, it’s still easy to lie. 

“I like the app and how you can set up reminders so that right when you wake up every morning you can take it,” Hannen said. “Is it enough for the University? I don’t know if I’d say that. I feel like it’s a step in the right direction to making sure everyone gets tested. It’s good that it tells you that you are negative, but again, it’s still easy to lie.”

Several students told The Daily that ResponsiBLUE had little effect last semester. LSA freshman Ava Ben-David said despite the University’s promotion of the app prior to the start of the school year, she thinks it wasn’t widely used until the spike in COVID-19 cases mid-semester. 

“I first heard about (ResponsiBLUE) before coming to campus, because the University emailed us saying that it would be used as a tool to help stop the spread of COVID,” Ben-David said. “And when I got to school, it wasn’t really used at all at first, but as cases went off, I saw that we began to use it at the dining hall.”

Part of the problem last semester was that the potential restrictions students faced by self-reporting any symptoms dissuaded many from being honest about their personal well-being, according to Ben-David.

“I know someone that literally had COVID,” Ben-David said. “They didn’t quite know yet that they had it, but they felt sick and they went through the entire dining hall line with no issue — they just totally lied on ResponsiBLUE. I feel like everyone is so used to filling it out so quickly and clicking ‘no, no, no’ so they can get their food and move on.”

Manthous said another problem with ResponsiBLUE last semester was that he and other students often chose not to report mild symptoms because they were confident in their ability to monitor their personal health independently.

“For example, my sore throat, I’d wake up with it, and it would go away within 15 minutes every morning — it’s a very mild sore throat and it’s the same every day — it happened well before I got into my college dorm room,” Manthous said. “I knew that this sore throat of mine was just allergies. … Obviously, if I had a different sore throat or it was hurting a lot more or I felt a weird tingly feeling, then I probably say ‘yes’ and try to get a COVID test.”

Hannen said it was easy to frequently dismiss mild symptoms and that students did so often.

“It’s so easy to lie,” Hannen said. “Like ‘Oh, I did have a headache, but I think it’s just a headache so I’m just gonna say I have no symptoms’ and stuff like that.”

Sugarman said many students did not accurately report symptoms last semester because they did not want to be sent into quarantine housing on North Campus. He said there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the consequences of reporting symptoms.

“Me and my girlfriend had a cold last semester, got tested for COVID and didn’t have COVID,” Sugarman said. “But we didn’t report that on our ResponsiBLUE — we just started limiting our contact with people … There’s definitely a fear among my friends, like what if you press ‘yes’? Are you going to be automatically quarantined? The clicking yes shouldn’t be shrouded in so much fear.”

University spokeswoman Lauren Love said the responsibility of completing the symptom check questionnaire falls on students and the app will display a red X if they fail to do so. 

“Undergraduate students are responsible for ensuring they have the required green symptom check and a green “COMPLETED” COVID-19 test verification to enter campus buildings,” Love said. “With one or two red Xs, students are expected to stay home or only to enter campus buildings to get their COVID-19 test.”

Because of the more stringent enforcement mechanisms that accompany ResponsiBLUE this semester, Hannen said she thinks the Winter 2021 version of the ResponsiBLUE app is better even though it still has students answer the three symptom-related questions. After all, even if students lie on the survey, they will still have their weekly COVID-19 test.

“It’s another step that ensures that you’re negative but, more so, it makes sure that you are getting regularly tested and it tracks it because then you can't go into the big buildings that you'd want to unless you tested negative, which I really like about it,” Hannen said.

Daily Staff Reporter Jared Dougall can be reached at jdougall@umich.edu.  

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