University releases criteria for review of campus operations in case of COVID-19 outbreak, diminished hospital capacity

Thursday, October 1, 2020 - 12:25pm

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Maddie Hinkley/Daily

The University of Michigan released triggers for reevaluating campus operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as an outbreak of cases or diminished capacity at local hospitals. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, University President Mark Schlissel had declined to provide a specific threshold.

According to the guidelines added to the Campus Blueprint website, the metrics “would prompt consideration of further action.” There is still “no one number that will prompt a change” to the University’s current COVID-19 strategy, the website reads.

Triggers include five days of test positivity rates above 20% based on results from both on and off-campus testing, an inability to provide effective rapid case investigation and contact tracing, diminished bed capacity or limited personal protective equipment at Michigan Medicine, among other criteria

A total of 1,428 tests have been conducted since the start of the week, with a 1.6% positivity rate for the week so far. As of Thursday, the University’s COVID-19 dashboard listed 508 cases since Aug. 30. 

A notice posted to the dashboard Wednesday notes “an increase in positive cases this week with several cases among students living in off campus residences, many of whom are being tested at outside health centers.” The dashboard was recently updated to include data from off-campus testing sites in response to complaints that the numbers did not accurately represent the spread of the virus on campus.

Two more clusters were identified Tuesday at Mosher-Jordan and Alice Lloyd Residence Halls, with targeted testing arranged for residents living on the floors where the cases were concentrated. The known positive cases and close contacts have been removed and placed in quarantine or isolation. 

Should the metrics trigger a review of operations, Schlissel “will be informed and will consult with academic and executive leadership about next steps in a response based on the recommendations of the public health and medical experts.”

Possible mitigation strategies include limiting in-person activities, temporarily halting in-person classes and moving to remote classes for the rest of the semester.

According to Michigan News, while closing all campus dorms and having students return home is one of the potential responses, the guidelines “also note the care that would need to be taken if that choice was made to minimize the risk of infection to hometown communities.” 

Public health experts have voiced concerns about an outbreak on campus sparking a domino effect if students bring the virus with them when they go home.

In an August interview with The Michigan Daily, when asked about a threshold of community spread, Schlissel said there is “no single number” that would require the campus to close or a certain number of cases that would serve as a trigger for moving classes fully online.

“If it turns out that the rate of increase in cases, the trajectory of this, is too high, then we’ll pull back. If it turns out that University Health Service can’t keep up with the demands for testing or people who are ill or we run out of quarantine space, then we’ll pull back,” Schlissel said. “So there isn’t a single number, it’s really the status of the disease on campus, how it’s spreading and then what’s happening in town and around the state.”

Schlissel said he thought it was “more likely than not that we will make it through the semester” without having to abandon the in-person classes. 

More than 70% of undergraduate credit hours are being offered online. 

In an email to The Daily in August, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald also declined to name an exact threshold, saying that “This is not something that can be prescribed in advance.”

Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the University, told Michigan News on Wednesday that the data outlined in the protocol have been in use before the release of the policy.

“We have been using this type of data all along to help guide the university’s response. This document is a way to formalize the data and put it in one place, but these data points are not new,” Malani said. “Whenever possible, potential responses to increases of COVID-19 transmission will be targeted toward the source of the increase.”

Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins will host their first weekly briefing on COVID-19 on Friday at 1 p.m. 

“Our COVID-19 response metrics detail the range of data around viral spread, public health factors and health care capacity we are using in our decision-making,” Schlissel told Michigan News. “… We understand that the university community will have questions and feedback about these plans, and we look forward to hearing them at our Friday forum.”

Community members can submit questions here to be addressed at the briefing.

Managing News Editor Leah Graham can be reached at leahgra@umich.edu


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