On May 21, the state of Michigan lifted its mask mandate for all fully vaccinated individuals. Continuing the re-opening of the state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Thursday that as of June 22, all COVID-19 regulations will expire, meaning unvaccinated individuals will be able to go unmasked indoors and outdoors, and capacity limits will be lifted.
On June 7, lifted restrictions allowed Ann Arbor businesses with high consumer traffic such as gyms, restaurants and retail stores to accomodate 50% capacity. As of June 17, Michigan Medicine has administered over 139,000 vaccine doses. Due to the high vaccination rate and looming end of restrictions, the Ann Arbor community is starting to see a return to a society that closely resembles a pre-COVID-19 world.
When over 44,000 U-M students return to Ann Arbor in August, campus life is going to look different from the past year and a half’s Zoom-oriented semesters. Between professors readjusting to in-person lectures, student organizations returning to in-person social events and freshmen living in high-capacity residence halls, U-M President Mark Schlissel said in a previous interview with The Michigan Daily that the upcoming fall semester will be a much-needed step in the direction of a normal semester.
U-M Chief Health Officer speaks to promising vaccination rates
Dr. Preeti Malani, Chief Health Officer of Michigan Medicine, expressed optimism for the campus community and the upcoming fall semester in an interview with The Daily.
“Based on community surveys and (data from similar Big 10 schools), we believe that our vaccination rates on campus are going to be in the 90% range, but we don’t have all that information yet,” Malani said. “So we’re going to be a highly vaccinated community. Washtenaw County is (one of) the best in the state.”
At the time of publishing this article, 67.1% of Washtenaw County residents over the age of 16 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 62.3% are considered fully vaccinated. Although the county still has a long way to go, this proportion does not account for U-M students who may have received their vaccinations elsewhere.
Malani said that although we will likely never be able to fully avoid COVID-19, it is important for the community to trust the public health decisions being made and allow life to somewhat return to normal. Our best fight against this virus, she said, is increasing our vaccination rate.
“The bottom line is that the risk of COVID is not going to be zero anytime in the near future, but it’ll be very low,” Malani said. “There will be cases of severe infection and they overwhelmingly will be in people who are unvaccinated. So we’re not powerless against this virus, and these decisions are not made randomly; they’re made based on data.”
Currently the University is only requiring vaccinations for students living in residence halls. Last week it announced that the fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks indoors most places on campus beginning Monday.
Incoming LSA freshman Hannah Samimi said she was surprised her first semester at Michigan would look so close to normal, having spent the majority of her senior year navigating different COVID-19 regulations, but she trusts administrators and public health officials have her best interest at heart.
“I never would’ve predicted that we would ever get back to this point, but I think that it wouldn’t be happening if administrators and the CDC weren’t 100% sure it was safe,” Samimi said. “It definitely will feel super weird to walk around and see tons of kids without masks so close together when that image has been installed in my brain the past year.”
Additionally, Samimi said she is excited to experience the full Michigan spirit and is extremely grateful that she gets to start her college years off on the right foot.
“I’ve seen pictures and videos of the Big House at max capacity and I can practically feel the energy through the screen. I am so extraordinarily lucky and painfully excited to actually be the one in front of the screen and experience something as unforgettable as a Michigan football game,” Samimi said. “Even outside of game day, having a real freshman year where social interaction isn’t deemed as sinful, but rather what guides me in finding who I am, is the most captivating thought of all.”
With 89% of classes planned to be taught in person, professors of relatively large classes face the stress of exposing themselves to high volumes of students. LSA professor Dragan Huterer will be teaching approximately 60 students in person, but said that most professors are eager to get back in the classroom and reap the mutual benefits of in-person instruction.
“I think all us professors … almost without exception, we would really prefer to teach in person,” Huterer said. “We are happier and the students are happier for sure. And it’s just a much more rewarding experience on both sides. So I think there’s absolutely no question about that.”
Some professors, however, are not as eager to be back in the classroom without a campus-wide vaccine mandate. In May, over 700 U-M instructors signed a petition asking the University to expand the vaccine mandate to all students attending in-person classes at the University. The instructors expressed concerns that the Pfizer vaccine was not available for children and that without a vaccine mandate, instructors could potentially be risking spreading COVID-19 to their children.
In an early-May email to the Daily, U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote that the University had no current plans to issue a vaccine mandate as they believed encouragement may be more beneficial in getting the maximum percentage of the U-M community vaccinated than a strict mandate. On Sunday, Fitzgerald wrote that the University will “continue to monitor conditions in the university community along with evolving state guidance.”
Residents of Ann Arbor are also excited to return to a more normal lifestyle. In an interview with The Daily, Ann Arbor resident Jesse Kauffman expressed his support for looser COVID-19 restrictions on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.
“There’s little evidence we have that suggests that there’s transmission between the University and the town. It’s extremely rare. So I think people are probably going to freak out about it, but I don’t think there’s any reason to,” Kauffman said. “I think it would be awful if they tried to reintroduce the kinds of restrictions implemented throughout this last year.”
The University encourages all students and faculty to report their vaccination status to Wolverine Access in order to bypass University quarantining, testing and face-covering policies. To self-report your vaccination information, click here.
Daily Staff Reporter Emily Blumberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org