Cluster of COVID-19 cases confirmed at South Quad
This story has been updated to include that 220 students tested negative for COVID-19 after the cluster was identified at South Quad.
A cluster of COVID-19 cases has been identified on the sixth and eighth floors of South Quad Residence Hall, according to the Washtenaw County Health Department. As of Thursday, there were 19 positive cases recorded.
A notice from the health department asks residents of the two floors to undergo enhanced social distancing for two weeks, including taking their temperature twice a day and staying in their rooms “as much as possible.”
“After extensive investigation, the majority of the cases were found to be connected but three cases on the 6th floor are not associated and have no known source of exposure,” the notice reads. “While this can happen at any time during a pandemic situation, we are taking additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the building. All positive cases and close contacts have been moved to isolation or quarantine.”
All residents on the sixth and eighth floors will undergo mandatory testing.
“Arrangements are being made and a detailed message will follow,” according to the notice.
The notice also discourages any contact with others, including social gatherings. Residents are to maintain six feet of distance with others “at all times,” continue using the ResponsiBLUE symptom tracking app and wash their hands frequently.
“Only leave when necessary to obtain food or to attend in-person classes if no remote option is available while wearing a face covering,” the notice reads. “Due to increased testing for athletes, they can also leave to attend their athletic events.”
Bathrooms on the affected floors will undergo heightened cleaning procedures.
Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, public information officer for the Washtenaw County Health Department, said she couldn’t say “offhand” if this was the first cluster on campus, noting that there have been “a steady but not large number of cases related to the campus.”
“When we talk about a cluster or an outbreak, we're starting to talk about cases that are linked to each other or they’re connected,” Ringler-Cerniglia said. “So I can’t say that none of the other cases across campus have been connected to one another. They probably are. This is probably one of the larger clusters that we've seen so far yet.”
Ringler-Cerniglia said there was a question of semantics surrounding the definition of a cluster.
“It's very likely that other cases are also connected to each other, but we have not yet identified another cluster,” Ringler-Cerniglia said. “… I would say that this is probably the largest cluster that we've identified so far. But certainly, there have been other cases where there's been more than one case connected to each other on campus.”
The information from the notice contradicts the University of Michigan’s COVID-19 dashboard, which lists 13 cases in South Quad. The dashboard has tracked 28 positive cases since Aug. 21 in the University’s residence halls, with at least one in each residence hall with the exceptions of East Quad and Oxford.
As of Thursday afternoon, the dashboard has tracked 67 positive cases in the last 14 days, with a 1.8% positivity rate. This week, 16 cases have been recorded and quarantine housing is at 12.3% occupancy, according to the dashboard.
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen confirmed that “the situation on floors 6 and 8 of South Quad is the first cluster in a U-M building,” but noted “there has been community spread since mid-March” when COVID-19 first became prominent in the United States. She said EHS and the county health department are monitoring the cluser closely.
Broekhuizen said the reason the dashboard does not reflect this cluster is because residence hall data is updated weekly.
“Data regarding the residence halls is updated weekly,” Broekhuizen said. “In the narrative section at the bottom of the dashboard page, you’ll see new updates regarding the South Quad cases.”
University Health Services tested all students living on the sixth and eighth floors. The 220 tests administered all came back with negative results.
LSA freshman Andrew Luchs lives in South Quad on the sixth floor. He said he tested negative on Tuesday and Thursday and now has to do mandatory testing with all other people on his floor within the next 48 hours.
“They really haven’t told us where any of the cases are on our floor, so we don’t even know if they were using our bathroom,” Luchs said.
He added that he wasn’t sure how the enhanced social distancing order would be maintained.
“It’s very up in the air, and we have no idea how they’ll enforce the 14-day quarantine,” Luchs said.
Jason Zhang, an LSA and Music, Theatre & Dance freshman, is also a South Quad resident, living on the third floor.
“We got an email that stated that there’s enhanced isolation rules on the sixth and eighth floors,” Zhang said. “Even now, there’s kind of a stigma with the people there. Generally, we try to stay away from people on the sixth and eighth floor because of the number of cases there. I have a friend who rode the elevator down just today, and someone from the sixth floor got on the elevator with him and he held his breath because he was scared. He didn’t want to breathe in the corona.”
LSA freshman Aidan Rappaport said many people in his hall on the first floor of South Quad stay in their rooms, but not all residents of the sixth floor do the same.
“I’ve been hanging out with (my friends on the sixth floor),” Rappaport said. “They both tested negative, even though they’re planning to go out tonight. They still might, honestly, but obviously they shouldn’t.”
The first positive case in a dorm was found before classes started in West Quad Residence Hall. Students in South Quad, as well as other dorms including North Quad Residence Hall and Bursley Residence Hall, received notices of positive cases less than a week into the semester.
Zhang had a hopeful outlook on the situation.
“I think with the enhanced measures, it’ll stay within that group,” Zhang said. “I don’t feel like I’m in immediate danger. I’m just more cautious now, but not necessarily thinking about it all the time and feeling scared.”
Members of the campus community with symptoms should isolate and contact University Health Service at 734-764-8320 for a free COVID-19 test. People with mild symptoms can use the University’s online assessment to initiate the testing process.
Students who test positive for COVID-19 after visiting a testing site not affiliated with the University should report their case here.
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