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Beginning Sept. 14, the University of Michigan will cease COVID-19 classroom and building notifications due to concerns the alerts are “confusing and of limited benefit” to the campus community. 

According to the University Record, a publication run by the University’s Office of Public Affairs, the University Environment Health and Safety unit will continue to conduct case investigations as well as notify and provide more information to those who came in close contact with the individual who tested positive. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close contact is defined as being within six feet of a COVID-positive individual for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period, whether or not either person was wearing a mask. The State of Michigan defines close contact in this way but adds “having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case.”

Due to masking requirements, high vaccination rates and ventilation standards, classroom and building environments have not been associated with the spread of COVID-19 in the University community, according to the University Record. 

“U-M officials note that simply attending the same class or being in the same building as someone with COVID-19 does not qualify as a close contact requiring quarantine or testing when all individuals are wearing a face covering and the vast majority are vaccinated,” the Record story reads. 

Despite an Aug. 26 faculty petition asking University officials for stricter COVID-19 guidelines in the classroom, University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins have called classrooms “perhaps the safest place to be on campus this fall.”

As a part of previous University public health notification protocols, the University began sending out classroom and building notifications in August 2020 to notify class rosters of potential COVID-19 exposure. 

The “broad, generalized” notifications were sent before case investigations were completed, “which determines whether the positive student had even attended in-person class,” the Record story said.

An example of a COVID-19 classroom notification sent to students.

The classroom notifications were also sent to follow the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration COVID-19 rules requiring employers to share information surrounding positive cases present in buildings during their infectious periods. 

Students have taken to social media to express concerns about the vague nature of the alerts, even turning the notifications into memes.

The Record story noted that MIOSHA rescinded the order in June and said “there are more effective ways (than the COVID-19 classroom notifications) to reach individuals who are close contacts to reduce potential community spread.” 

Robert Ernst — director of U-M’s COVID-19 Campus Health Response Committee, executive director of University Health Service and associate vice president for health and wellness in Student Life — said in a statement the state of the pandemic called for a change in the University’s approach to notifications.

“We are in a very different place than where we were when the university first started sharing community notices last August,” Ernst said in the statement. “At that time, general public notices provided an added layer of awareness. Today, much of society has transitioned to a more protected post-vaccine phase of the pandemic and many restrictions have been adjusted. Targeted individual case investigation and associated contact tracing are more effective parts of the mitigation strategy designed to limit spread.”

The Record story noted that all COVID-19 case data is publicly available on the University dashboard.

Daily Staff Reporter Vanessa Kiefer can be reached at vkiefer@umich.edu.