As Thanksgiving approaches, thousands of students are planning on returning home to their families across the country and the globe. With approximately 10,000 students usually living in residence halls and hundreds more living in Fraternity & Sorority Life housing, thousands of students will be forced to return home as their current residences close until mid-January. Amid a campuswide outbreak that resulted in hundreds of new student cases a week and an undergraduate stay-in-place order, is it safe for students to return home? 

Thanksgiving is usually a time when families come together, show gratitude and enjoy each other’s company. Students coming home pose a great risk for their family and possibly extended family that they choose to see during the holidays. The University of Michigan must take responsibility for preventing the spread of this outbreak to the families of thousands of students. 

The University chose to not require testing for all students arriving on campus, did not offer easy access to testing unlike many other universities and failed to enforce policies surrounding social gathering limitations. While the risk can also be attributed to students socializing despite knowing that they were breaking public health guidelines, it is clear that the University was not prepared to prevent a campus-wide spread. 

While looking for options that the University is offering for students from mid-November to mid-January, I found it very difficult to find information. When I clicked the link to “winter term break accommodations,” it read “Information currently unavailable. Please check back later.” Similarly, when I clicked on the links for information on extended stays, there was only information for extended stays from last semester, stating that pre-registration is required and any advanced stay past a day or two requires payment. 

Students are currently making their travel plans for returning home. If there is a way for students to remain on campus in University Housing, it is important that they are made aware of it and can access it easily. The University should ensure affordable housing that does not disproportionately impact families that cannot afford to pay extra for extended stays.

According to an email sent by University President Mark Schlissel on Oct. 30 to all members of the campus community, the Washtenaw County stay-in-place order has resulted in a slight decrease in new cases of 18-to-29-year-olds. However, there has still been a rise in new cases in 30-to-49-year-olds and the daily average in Washtenaw County has been 97.6 over the last seven days. 

The University has taken steps in the right direction toward better public health safety. Through the University Health Service’s Community Sampling and Tracking Program, it has become much easier for students on and off campus to sign up for testing. The University has also released a “Departure Testing & Protocol” guide where students are urged to practice social distancing, get tested for COVID-19, quarantine when arriving home and travel safely. 

However, most residence halls and FSL houses are kicking students out the weekend of Nov. 20. With less than a week before Thanksgiving, students will not be able to quarantine from their family if they plan on celebrating the holiday with them. Additionally, many students take on extra responsibilities at home such as working or helping with siblings that would also prevent them from being able to quarantine. 

Going forward, the University must offer affordable housing for students to stay in during the winter months if they do not feel comfortable returning home. Though encouraging testing for students will most likely result in an increase of students in isolation housing, the University is responsible for cleaning up the mess it has started. 

Lizzy Peppercorn can be reached at epepperc@umich.edu

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