43 U-M students have contracted B.1.1.7 variant, students now account for 62% of total county COVID-19 cases

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 6:55pm

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Gabby Ceritano/Daily

Forty-three cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been discovered on the University of Michigan campus, all among students, U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily Wednesday. 

The state of Michigan as a whole has at least 67 cases of the more contagious variant as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control — though 90 cases of the variant were also reported at a West Michigan prison late Tuesday evening — with 1,277 cases across the United States. 

U-M students now make up 62% of total COVID-19 cases in Washtenaw County — up from a third of total cases just two weeks ago and up from about half of total cases just last Friday — according to a Tuesday update to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard. 

Fitzgerald wrote that the rest of the Washtenaw County community is seeing a decline in cases, contributing to the increasing percentage of total cases in the county coming from U-M students. 

“What this suggests is that students are largely infecting other students,” Fitzgerald wrote. “We continue to see no evidence of spread in the classroom or any of our other spaces that have been engineered for social distancing and where masking is required.”

Among students, off-campus indoor gatherings are the primary setting for transmission, Fitzgerald wrote. 11 off-campus houses are currently under quarantine based on contact tracing, Fitzgerald wrote, though there may be other off-campus houses where every individual member of the household is under quarantine.

The dashboard reports 958 cases on campus over the last three weeks, 884 of which are students. 329 students tested positive last week, the highest number since 372 tested positive in early October. 

Despite the high level of cases, the update says the University’s only COVID-19 response metric currently being met is a seven-day average of more than 70 new cases per million in Washtenaw County. That metric was first met in late September and is now at 135.1 cases per million, compared to 71.4 cases per million for the state of Michigan as a whole, according to the dashboard.

The University has expanded testing to over 21,000 per week the last three weeks, up from around 7,000 per week in the fall semester. The U-M positivity rate last week was 1.6%, slightly below the state of Michigan’s rate of 3.6%. Washtenaw County’s positivity rate as a whole is 1.8%

In response to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the fall, the Washtenaw County Health Department placed undergraduate students under a two-week stay-in-place order. The health department issued a similar “recommendation” in January in response to the diagnosed cases of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant among students. 

Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, public information officer for the WCHD, previously told The Daily the January recommendation was initiated to prevent strain on public health resources like contact tracing. Contact tracing efforts were already overwhelmed ahead of the October order.

The University’s case investigation resources are now strained due to the current rate of new cases, according to the update. 

Fitzgerald did not say whether the University or the WCHD were considering another order or any other changes to campus operations in response to the uptick in cases.

“The U-M public health response teams remain in close collaboration with their colleagues at WCHD and continue to work together to track the on-campus and off-campus activity very closely,” Fitzgerald wrote. 

Daily News Editor Calder Lewis can be reached at calderll@umich.edu.


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