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On Wednesday, the Washtenaw County Health Department issued a new stay in place recommendation for all on- and near-campus U-M students. The recommendation was issued to help slow the spread of a growing cluster of B.1.1.7 variant cases of COVID-19 among U-M students. Here’s what you need to know.

Who does this affect?

The county’s recommendation impacts all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students living “on or near” U-M’s Ann Arbor campus. 

How long will the stay-in-place recommendation be in place?

The recommendation is in place through 11:59 pm on Sunday, Feb. 7. The press release from the Washtenaw County Health Department also stated that the recommendation may be extended or more stringent measures may be put in place as the state of the outbreak continues to evolve.

Under what circumstances can you leave your residence?

The recommendation asks students not to congregate with anyone living outside of their household. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, a household is defined as “a group of persons living together in a shared dwelling with common kitchen or bathroom facilities. In dwellings with shared kitchen or bathroom facilities occupied by 20 or more unrelated persons, households are defined by individuals who share a bedroom.”

Students can leave their residences to:

  • Go to in-person classes and instructional labs

  • Work, including in-person research, only if the work cannot be done remotely, and with the permission of their employer

  • Get takeout, see a doctor, pick up medication, or obtain COVID-19 testing or vaccination

  • Exercise outside with one other person

  • Go to on-campus single-person study areas to study, print, access essential technology and take virtual classes

  • Observe religious practices

  • Go to approved clinical rotations, student teaching or off-campus experiential learning activities, with approval from the college dean and the organization/site of activity

University President Mark Schlissel wrote in an email to the campus community that “ U-M supports these recommendations for all students, including student-athletes, along with additional quarantine and isolation requirements for those who tested positive or are close contacts.” The guidelines issued in this stay-in-place recommendation are similar to those issued in the stay-in-place order last fall.

Can I go to the gym?

The Central Campus Recreation Building and North Campus Recreation Building will be closed for the duration of the recommendation, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily. The Intramural Sports Building will only be open as a COVID-19 testing site. 

What campus study spots will be open?

The Michigan Union will remain open for printing, single-person study spaces, access to WiFi, COVID-19 testing and blood donations. Pierpont Commons will only be open for COVID-19 testing and the blood drive. The Michigan League and Trotter Multicultural Center will be closed.

What does this mean for student organizations?

The Center for Campus Involvement updated its COVID-19 policies Wednesday to prohibit in-person student organization gatherings of any kind for the duration of the recommendation.

How will this recommendation be enforced?

Unlike the stay-in-place order in the fall semester, which carried a fine for violations, this recommendation carries no enforcement mechanism. The county health department noted the distinction between a recommendation and order on an FAQ page, encouraging everyone to “follow it as much as possible” to stop the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant.

When asked about the difference between the fall’s order and the current recommendation, Fitzgerald said the county health department has had time to understand what other health departments and campus communities have done over the course of the pandemic.

“I think the advice, collectively, is to handle these as recommendations, not as local health orders,” Fitzgerald said.

Why right now?

On Jan. 16, the new, highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 appeared in Washtenaw County, the first case in the state of Michigan. According to Wednesday’s press release, “increased testing of U-M students has identified 175 COVID-19 cases among students in the U-M community, 14 of which have been determined to be the B.1.1.7 variant.”

On January 24, the Michigan athletics paused operations for 14 days due to both an increase in positive test results as well as the appearance of the new variant. A source close to the athletic department told The Daily that the first case in the state was found in an U-M athlete traveling from the U.K.

The athletic department and Washtenaw County hope that the implementation of this recommendation will “protect the public health of the campus community and residents of Washtenaw County,” according to Wednesday’s press release.

The statement added that if the recommendation goes according to plan, “the recommendation will help slow transmission and allow for full investigation of the current situation.”

What is different about this variant?

The B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus is more contagious than the predominant strain of the virus, SARS-CoV-2. According to Wednesday’s press release, “the B.1.1.7 variant is approximately 50 percent more transmissible, which is likely to lead to faster spread of the virus and increases in the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.” The county health department stated in their FAQ and press release that it is unclear how quickly it can spread or if it more effectively spreads in communities.

The B.1.1.7 variant has only emerged in recent months, and according to the county health department, “it is not currently known if clinical outcomes or disease severity from B.1.1.7 are increased compared to the virus that has been circulating across the United States for months.”

Can students leave campus and return home?

Returning home is “not recommended” for students, according to the county health department FAQ. They emphasized that students should remain at their residences in Ann Arbor to help avoid the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, curbing the possibility of transmission at home.

Will this affect weekly testing?

No. Required weekly testing will continue for students living on-campus or working on campus, and those living off-campus are still encouraged to participate weekly.

“All U-M students living on or near campus also are strongly encouraged to participate in free weekly testing provided by the university,” Wednesday’s press release reads. “Undergraduates living on or coming to campus are required by the university to be tested weekly.”

Daily Staff Reporters Christian Juliano & Jared Dougall can be reached at julianoc@umich.edu and jdougall@umich.edu

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