After all students living in Mary Markley Residence Hall were notified this weekend they would have to undergo enhanced social distancing for two weeks, further response metrics for reevaluating campus operations still have not been triggered, according to a University of Michigan spokesperson. Two of the criteria for reviewing the University’s COVID-19 strategy were met earlier this month.
Markley residents and staff were asked on Saturday not to attend in-person classes and must follow enhanced social distancing protocols after pop-up testing identified 17 new cases in the building, according to a notice posted online.
“Due to the high prevalence of cases in Markley and the lack of cooperation from a high proportion of residents who have still not participated in mandatory testing — thus increasing the overall risk for residents — we are taking additional immediate measures to protect all Markley residents and prevent further spread of COVID-19,” the notice reads.
All positive cases in the building and close contacts associated with them have been relocated or are in the process of being moved. Residents are only to leave their rooms “when necessary to obtain food, use the bathroom, or in the case of an emergency” and must wear a face mask when doing so, according to the posting. Student-athletes living in the residence hall will still be able to attend required athletic events due to the increased testing available to them.
“We are asking that everyone share in the responsibility to take the precautions as outlined by the Washtenaw County Health Department in order to prevent a larger outbreak that could result in further restrictions,” the notice reads. “Case counts are increasing across campus and the county with many linked to social gatherings.”
In early October, two threshold criteria — Washtenaw County seeing more than 70 new cases per million and five days of sustained increases in new infections — were met, initiating a review of the University’s protocols for mitigating the spread of the virus on campus.
The use of quarantine housing has also spiked recently, passing 50% occupancy. All designated spaces in vacant buildings have been put to use as of Friday, so students who have been exposed to COVID-19 or tested positive for it will now be housed in buildings with regular-term residents.
Other metrics include the identification of a cluster with more than 100 contacts as well as isolation and quarantine housing being projected to reach capacity within two weeks, or 80% capacity of 600 beds.
In an email to The Michigan Daily Sunday night, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said only two of the school’s response metrics had been met.
“Based on the test results we have at this point, there is not a cluster with more than 100 close contacts in Markley,” Fitzgerald wrote. “As noted in the dashboard narrative, we have additional testing to do in that residence hall, so this could change as we move forward. As for what response metrics have been met: We are meeting the metric for more than 70 cases per million in Washtenaw County. We also are meeting the metric of 5 days of sustained increases in student infections.”
According to the University’s Campus Blueprint website, responses are tailored to address the source of the increase in the spread of COVID-19.
“If transmission continues to increase, responses will prompt a wider use of mitigation measures that extend across larger segments of the university community,” the website reads. “Tools and enhanced mitigation measures could include, but are not limited to, entrance screening enforcement, restriction of extracurricular activities, travel, gatherings, the suspension of in-person classes, or even the closure of residence halls.”
If residence halls are closed, the University’s guidelines also note “the care that would need to be taken if that choice was made to minimize the risk of infection to hometown communities.” Public health experts have warned against sending students home from campuses with high rates of COVID-19 out of fear of spreading the virus to new communities.
University officials have repeatedly maintained that there is not a single number or metric that would push administrators to alter the school’s reopening plans.
During the University’s weekly COVID-19 briefing Friday, Chief Health Officer Preeti Malani said the increase in students going into quarantine housing was “not sustainable,” adding that the University was estimated to fill up the available housing in a few weeks.
“This is very concerning — in the last week, there’s been a very robust increase in these numbers and I know many people are following them on the COVID tracker,” Malani said. “There still is plenty of housing available, but at the current rate, we will go through it within a couple weeks.”
During the first two weeks of October, people aged 18 to 22 accounted for nearly two-thirds of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Washtenaw County.
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