Washtenaw County issues stay-in-place order for U-M students amid spiking COVID-19 cases

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 - 1:02pm

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Maddie Hinkley/Daily

The Washtenaw County Health Department issued a stay-in-place order for University of Michigan undergraduate students Tuesday to curb outbreaks of COVID-19. It will take place effective immediately and last until Nov. 3 at 7 a.m.

In a press release, Jimena Loveluck, Washtenaw County Health Officer, said they put the order in place because the situation has become “critical.” According to Loveluck, U-M-associated COVID-19 cases represent over 60% of local cases.

“This order is necessary to reverse the current increase in cases,” Loveluck said. “We must continue to do what we can to minimize the impact on the broader community and to ensure we have the public health capacity to fully investigate cases and prevent additional spread of illness.”

Undergraduate students, both on and off-campus, must stay in their residence unless attending class, accessing dining services or carrying out approved work that cannot be done remotely. Students who wish to return to a primary residence may do so only if they have completed the University’s procedures for leaving campus safely.

Students not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms may still leave their residences for a variety of reasons, including voting, getting medication and going to medical appointments, attending class, participating in varsity sports, going to work if it cannot be done remotely or exercising in groups of no more than two people.

No visitors will be allowed in on or off-campus housing. The county emphasized there should be no in-person gatherings with people outside of people’s households. Under existing state orders, people must stay away from those not already in their household by at least six feet and wear a face covering when out in public or common areas. 

According to the county’s press release, the University also will take further steps out of an “abundance of caution” to provide options for students and instructors such as moving more undergraduate courses to fully remote instruction for the remainder of the fall semester.

In a statement, Robert Ernst, executive director of University Health Service and associate vice president for Student Life, said the school was working in close coordination with the county.

“The university has been working closely with the Health Department all along in response to the pandemic and supports this decision to issue this stay at home order,” Ernst said. “This action is intended to reduce the strain on our capacities for contact tracing and quarantine and isolation housing. Many individuals and off-campus residences are cooperating fully, and we hope this additional guidance on limiting social activities reverses the trend of increased cases related to social gatherings.”

According to the county press release, the stay-in-place order is not the same as a quarantine order. 

“During the stay in place order, official and essential activities are allowable when carried out using COVID-19 prevention measures including wearing face coverings, social distancing and frequent hand cleaning,” the press release reads. “While this order allows students to work and participate in official activities with preventive measures in place, it also limits the impact of exposures on local businesses, workers and community members.”

This comes amid a spike in cases on campus and a corresponding jump in the use of quarantine and isolation housing. In the first two weeks of October, people between the ages of 18 and 22 accounted for nearly two-thirds of cases in Washtenaw County

As of Tuesday morning, there have been nearly 1,200 COVID-19 cases on campus since the start of the fall semester and quarantine occupancy at 52.8%. On Saturday, the University announced it would begin to house students in quarantine and isolation in Northwood Apartments buildings with regular residents because all designated rooms are occupied. 

Washtenaw County issued orders on Oct. 7 limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor events to 25. According to the order, the restrictions will remain in place until it is “determined by the Washtenaw County Health Officer that the threat to the public’s health and lives is no longer present.”

In early October, the University released criteria for reevaluating campus operations during the pandemic. There is “no one number” that will prompt the University to change its current plans, but there are a variety of metrics that would lead to the “consideration of further action,” according to the Campus Blueprint. These triggers include five consecutive days of COVID-19 test positivity rates above 20%, a cluster of over 100 contacts, more than 70 new cases per million in Washtenaw county, if quarantine and isolation housing is estimated to reach full capacity in the next 14 days or 80% of the beds are filled, among other criteria.

By Oct. 5, the University had triggered two of its metrics when there were five days of sustained increases in infections among University students and staff, and when Washtenaw county exceeded 70 new cases per million. 

On Saturday, all residents of the Mary Markley Residence Hall were told to follow enhanced social distancing for two weeks after 17 new cases were confirmed in the building. Despite the orders, no further criteria were met, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily on Sunday. 

A notice sent to Markley residents over the weekend said the new guidelines were put in place because of “the high prevalence of cases in Markley and the lack of cooperation from a high proportion of residents.” Additional protocols include not attending in-person classes and only leaving the dorm room if necessary. 

The Campus Blueprint website says mitigation responses are currently targeted at the source of the outbreak, such as enhanced social distancing in Markley. However, broader, campus-wide changes might be warranted if enough metrics are crossed. 

“Tools and enhanced mitigation measures could include, but are not limited to, entrance screening enforcement, restriction of extracurricular activities, travel, gatherings, the suspension of in-person classes, or even the closure of residence halls,” the website reads. 

More than 360 cases have been confirmed in the residence halls from Aug. 21 to Oct. 17, according to the dashboard. More than ten clusters have been identified in the residence halls since move-in, many in the last two weeks.

The Daily confirmed one cluster in a sorority house following a party with members of a disaffiliated fraternity, as some in Fraternity & Sorority Life continue to party and recruit freshmen.

Chief Health Officer Preeti Malani said in the weekly COVID-19 briefing on Friday that the current rate of students going into quarantine housing is “not sustainable” and the University will “go through it within a couple weeks.”

Especially towards the beginning of the semester, students sent to U-M quarantine housing voiced concerns about unsanitary conditions, lack of communication and confusing protocol. Many students are getting tested at off-campus sites, some to avoid being sent to U-M quarantine spaces and others out of reasons of access and convenience.

When the University added off-campus testing counts to the dashboard in late September, the number of confirmed cases more than doubled.

Symptomatic individuals and those who’ve been in close contact with a positive case are eligible for testing through University Health Service. Others have to sign up and be chosen randomly through the weekly symptomatic surveillance testing program, leading to criticism from community members and experts of the University’s testing plans.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization, the union which represents more than 2,000 of the University’s Graduate Student Instructors, went on strike in September in protest of the University’s reopening plan. Facing legal pressure from the University, GEO accepted the University’s proposal and ended its strike after two weeks. 

Many resident advisers and some student dining hall staff also staged labor actions to demand safer working conditions. Resident advisers accepted the University’s deal soon after the GEO strike ended, but resident advisers and MDining staff continue to voice health and safety concerns. 

The Faculty Senate passed a vote of no confidence in President Mark Schlissel’s leadership but failed to pass a vote of confidence in the University’s fall reopening plan.

The University is expected to announce its plans for the winter semester by early November.

Daily News Editor Claire Hao contributed reporting.

Daily News Editor Emma Stein can be reached at enstein@umich.edu.


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