Students have expressed concern that a lack of knowledge about potential exposures could lead to increased spread of the virus since the University of Michigan stopped sending classroom and building COVID-19 notifications on Sept. 14.
Previously, after a student tested positive for COVID-19, the University sent out a notification to the class rosters for all in-person and hybrid classes that the student was taking. However, the notification did not specify which class the student was in, the date that students could have been exposed or if the student who tested positive had even attended class in-person recently.
The University announced this policy change in an article published in the University Record. The announcement said that classrooms have not been associated with the spread of COVID-19, simply being in a class with somebody who tests positive for COVID-19 does not qualify as a “close contact” exposure and the notifications were confusing and of limited benefit.
University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins previously said classrooms are “the safest place to be on campus” due to mask and vaccine requirements. According to the Campus Blueprint, 95% of students, 83% of staff and 94% of faculty are fully vaccinated.
Rackham student Ryan Glauser, COVID-19 caucus co-chair of the Graduate Employees’ Union, said the University did not inform GEO or Graduate Student Instructors prior to announcing the decision to end COVID-19 classroom notifications. Glauser said he would have preferred to learn about this information from a supervisor rather than via a Michigan Daily story.
“There is no reason that the union, or me, should find out that I’m no longer being told I’m getting exposed to COVID from a newspaper article,” Glauser said. “My supervisor should be the one telling me we’re making a substantial policy change here.”
Though the University discontinued the notifications, they will continue to trace close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19, the Record article states. Robert Ernst, executive director of University Health Service, told the University Record close-contact tracing is a more effective mitigation strategy than the emails.
“Targeted individual case investigation and associated contact tracing are more effective parts of the mitigation strategy designed to limit spread,” Ernst said.
Glauser said he never received any COVID-19 classroom notifications, though several of his students personally told him they were diagnosed with COVID-19 or were quarantined due to close classroom contacts.
“I’ve only found out because my students have told me, and in the first few weeks I’ve had about a quarter of my class miss a week because of COVID issues,” Glauser said.
Music, Theatre & Dance junior Sam Todd said he believes the University should have improved the COVID-19 classroom notifications instead of ending them altogether.
“(The University) would tell you that there was a COVID case … but (they’re) not going to tell you where it is,” Todd said. “It was confusing, but don’t throw the baby out the window.”
LSA freshman Daniella Ludmir said she is not upset that the University stopped sending COVID-19 classroom notifications.
“They were kind of pointless,” Ludmir said. “They would tell you that someone in one of your classrooms has tested positive (for COVID-19) but you didn’t know what (class).”
But Engineering and Art & Design sophomore Ben Michalsky said he wants the University to continue to send COVID-19 classroom notifications because of potential COVID-19 exposure risks.
“If we are returning to in-person classes, 93% of classes are back in person, students and staff are kind of assuming a risk there by going in person,” Michalsky said. “Ending (classroom notifications) … that feels like a misstep.”
LSA senior Catherine Hadley, vice president of the Student Parent Advisory Board, said she thinks student parents, of whom there are more than 700 on campus, were left out of the decision to end COVID-19 classroom notifications.
“It lies on the administration making smart public health measures and doing things like bringing back the program for notifications, and bringing back a smarter system that lets us know more of what we’re doing,” Hadley said. “What (the University is) asking student parents to do is pay out of pocket to take rapid tests every time they go on campus because I don’t really know any other way to make sure that I’m not exposing my children to COVID, and that’s a huge expense for student parents.”
Hadley, who has two children who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated, said the classroom notifications were particularly important for student parents who may be going home to unvaccinated children after class.
“I feel like I’m being told, ‘Oh, we’re totally fine to go back and everyone is vaccinated and so, you know, it’ll be okay,’ but for my family, it’s not,” Hadley said. “If it’s between my children’s health or school I’m always going to pick my children’s health, but it’s really unfortunate that I’m being forced to make that decision.”
Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at email@example.com.