Schlissel speaks on coronavirus at SACUA

Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 12:06am

U-M President Mark Schlissel spoke about COVID-19 at the virtual SACUA meeting Monday evening.

U-M President Mark Schlissel spoke about COVID-19 at the virtual SACUA meeting Monday evening. Buy this photo
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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel virtually joined the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and responded to questions about how the University of Michigan is handling the ongoing spread of COVID-19 on Monday afternoon.

“The health system, as a whole, has been organizing for weeks now to deal with a predicted massive influx of COVID-19 patients,” Schlissel said. 

Schlissel said Michigan Medicine is currently treating about 100 patients. He said the number of patients the hospital is receiving is growing in a way that matches the curve for COVID-19. 

“They are converting as much of the hospital as possible into the type of facilities that can safely care for patients with respiratory and infectious diseases,” Schlissel said. “The model suggests that we’re going to be full of our normal capacity, unless there’s a significant change in new cases that come from social distancing. By the second week in April, sometime that week, we’ll be full.”

Schlissel emphasized the importance of organizing as far in advance as possible when it comes to the safety of patients and how much space can be utilized in the process.

“We are looking at ways to increase our capacity,” Schlissel said. “We are looking at dormitory space for non-critically ill patients. I know we’re looking at other facilities on campus where we could extend our clinical capacity safely. A lot of contingency planning to get us up to the numbers that the model predicts.”

Schlissel said he has an optimistic view of the University’s ability to cope with the changes ahead and promised to update students and staff with information as it continually is updated. 

“The model is now predicting the epidemic as peaking in Southeast Michigan in May, perhaps mid-May, depending on this social distancing approach that the governor has ordered,” Schlissel said. “There’s a lot of unknowns.”

Sami Malek, SACUA member and professor of internal medicine, asked about the supply of personal protective equipment for Michigan Medicine patients and staff.

Schlissel said supplies for personal protective equipment are currently being met and all patients and staff at Michigan Medicine are required to wear a mask. He said Michigan Medicine is trying to help as many people as possible.

“We are still operating in a world when you are able to have your own personal medical privacy,” Schlissel said. “So when you have someone that’s positive, the physician that makes the diagnosis is obligated to inform the county health department. The county health department will then look at contacts and workplace issues and offer advice to people in that workplace. We haven’t gotten to the stage yet where the county health department is publishing people in a newspaper. That’s not a good practice so we are still doing it the way that the county health department is recommending.” 

In addition to Schlissel’s discussion of COVID-19, the committee unanimously approved the formation of the new Ad Hoc Committee to be focused on university libraries and open access. SACUA chair Joy Beatty said she hopes the committee will begin in the fall. 

“We will start looking at staffing over the next couple weeks and we can hope to begin in September,” Beatty said.

Daily Staff Reporter Delaney Dahlstrom can be reached at delaneyn@umich.edu