University of Michigan and Washtenaw County officials have said they see Tuesday’s stay-in-place order for undergraduates as a way to get COVID-19 spread under control. Students are skeptical.
As the first football game and Halloween approach — both occasions that in normal times are synonymous with large parties — Washtenaw County issued a two-week stay-in-place order for undergraduate students. The order is effective immediately and lasts until at least Nov. 3 at 7 a.m.
Students told The Michigan Daily they see the order as a new way to try to stop partying and large gatherings, but some, like Business senior Garrett Wilson, questioned if it will be any more effective than previous attempts to regulate students’ behavior.
“This order is an anti-party ordinance cloaked as in a stay-at-home order,” Wilson said.
Rackham student Ryan Glauser, who is a member of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, is part of the union’s COVID-19 caucus, which has been working on pandemic-related issues since March. Glauser called the order a “PR stunt” meant to maintain the image of the University’s public health-informed semester while providing students with various ways to opt out.
“The reason the stay-in-place orders worked in March, April and May is because there were no exceptions,” Glauser said. “You had to go home, and you had to go to the grocery store, and you had to go back. There was no middle ground. What they did here is they offer six potential ways out of this order, and these six ways will cover everybody. So you don’t have to be under this order if you don’t want to be under this order.”
The county’s order allows students to leave their residence for a variety of reasons, such as attending in-person classes, getting medical care, voting, going to work and exercising in groups of no more than two people. However, undergraduates cannot go to gyms or eat in restaurants for the duration of the order.
This order will be enforced similarly to how other state and local health orders have been implemented previously, according to Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, public information officer for the Washtenaw County Health Department. Those who violate the order could face fines, but the University and county will look to educate students before penalizing them.
In an interview with The Daily Tuesday, Ringler-Cerniglia said local law enforcement can be contacted for emergencies that require urgent attention.
“The first approach is really going to be about education,” Ringler-Cerniglia said. “We prefer to have compliance and people doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do to prevent the spread of disease versus trying to levy fines at everyone.”
According to a press release from the health department, 61% of the over 4,000 coronavirus cases in Washtenaw County can be attributed to students living on or off-campus as of Monday. Jimena Loveluck, Washtenaw County health officer, said at COVID-19 briefing with University administrators Tuesday the order provides an opportunity for the campus community to alter the trajectory of COVID-19 spread among students.
“The goal really is to decrease the social gatherings that are occurring that are really spurring the spread and transmission of COVID-19,” Loveluck said. “This measure is really … giving us an opportunity to do everything possible to decrease and change these trends that we’re seeing.”
Students, however, say they see the order’s restrictions as too little, too late.
LSA junior Gustavo Navarro, a resident adviser in West Quad Residence Hall, said such an order should have gone into place a long time ago, especially following the various clusters in dorms such as Mary Markley Residence Hall, where all residents were told over the weekend they would have to follow enhanced social distancing guidelines for two weeks. However, Navarro worried that the various exceptions to the order will be used as excuses for students to continue to hang out with their friends.
Navarro said he has found it difficult to help residents make informed decisions regarding housing when residential staff wasn’t provided with additional information about the order. He said the exemptions provide opportunities for students to side-step compliance.
“There are loopholes, like making claims that (students) are getting food, or that they’re doing physical activity or anything that the order mandates,” Navarro said. “It becomes frustrating because our job is to provide support to the residents, and it becomes a little more difficult to do that when we don’t necessarily have all the answers.”
Students said the order doesn’t inspire much confidence in stopping gatherings off-campus, either. The order comes shortly before major social events like Halloween or the Michigan State University football game, but some said they don’t see the order as enough of a deterrent to bring these functions to a halt.
At the town hall Tuesday, Martino Harmon, vice president for Student Life, said there have been multiple COVID-19 clusters within fraternity and sorority houses.
Glauser said the fact that fraternities and sororities have continued to host social events shows this order is unlikely to make any inroads in preventing parties on campus, whether or not the students are in Fraternity and Sorority Life.
“This thing has become broader than just the University,” Glauser said. “Not allowing any in-person, indoor meetings is a good first step, but you’re also forgetting that most of this stuff happens off-campus. Greek life, they’re off-campus. Those parties that are happening on State Street and down at Burns Park? Off-campus.”
The Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association, the governing bodies of some of the University’s fraternities and sororities, decided to suspend all social events for the fall 2020 semester out of safety concerns amid the pandemic.
“We cannot ignore the broader implications and responsibilities of being a member of Fraternity & Sorority Life during this unprecedented time,” a July statement from the IFC and Panhellenic Association reads. “We must also be mindful of how the virus has disproportionately affected communities of color, and do our part to work against this inequity.”
LSA senior Kate Kachmer said she’s noticed a lack of enforcement with previous restrictions, leading her to believe this order won’t bring about any significant changes.
“My primary issue with this order is that it’s being imposed upon people who have been doing things right,” Kachmer said. “Those people who have been doing things wrong … the rules haven’t been enforced for them.”
Kachmer also worried that the order would backfire and just push events indoors, rather than preventing them altogether. While all gatherings are against public health guidelines under the order, students noted that if these events are going to take place regardless, they would be safer outdoors.
Wilson shared this sentiment, saying people may move events like tailgates or Halloween celebrations indoors out of fear of being punished for being seen with others outside.
“I think what they could inadvertently foster is exactly what they’re trying to stop, which is spread through unsafe means,” Wilson said.
Daily News Editor Claire Hao contributed reporting.
Daily Staff Reporter Iulia Dobrin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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