The Daily's latest COVID-19 news

Saturday, January 16, 2021 - 5:54pm

The Michigan Daily's COVID-19 coverage center.

The Michigan Daily's COVID-19 coverage center. Buy this photo
Lizzy Rueppel

The coronavirus pandemic has created a hectic news cycle. Here’s our most up-to-date COVID-19 news for the University of Michigan and Washtenaw County.

The latest:

March 3: 375 University of Michigan undergraduate students lost Mcard access to non-residential buildings on campus following their failure to comply with mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements, the University Record announced Tuesday.

Mcards were deactivated for students who have not taken a COVID-19 test in more than 3 weeks and are part of the weekly mandatory testing cohort. This cohort includes students living in University Housing and others who access campus buildings and facilities. The announcement specified that students who live in University Housing and lost Mcard access are still able to enter their residence halls. 

Email notifications were sent out yesterday to inform students about their denied Mcard access after multiple reminders to get tested were sent out via email and the ResponsiBLUE application.

According to the University’s Compliance and Accountability team, which was established at the beginning of the Winter semester to track participation in the mandatory testing program, about 98% of undergraduate students who live in residence halls have followed the weekly testing requirements. 

In addition to Mcard deactivation, the University could implement other “accountability measures” for students who fail to comply with mandatory testing such as probation, cancellation of housing contracts and referral of the complaint to “formal student conduct processes” to determine any possible consequences. 

In order for students to regain access to their Mcards, they will need to receive a COVID-19 test through the Community Sampling and Tracking Program, if asymptomatic. If the students are symptomatic, they are required to get a test through the University Health System. Students may also submit an exemption indicating that they do not fall in the mandatory weekly cohort. After this material is verified, students can make a request to the Compliance and Accountability team to have their Mcard reactivated. 

U-M students made up 62% of total COVID-19 cases in Washtenaw County on Feb. 17. According to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard, student cases have been decreasing in past weeks, with 94 positive cases the week of Feb. 21 compared to 177 for the week prior. As of Tuesday, U-M students represent 27% of total cases in Washtenaw County, according to the University Record.

Here’s a link to the University’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard for the latest on-campus data.

Here’s what else you need to know:

Feb. 23: The University of Michigan’s daily COVID-19 information application, ResponsiBLUE, will soon feature new updates, according to a Feb. 19 article from The University Record. These new updates include a quarantine and isolation indicator for students, an additional daily question related to international travel and improved user experience based on community feedback.

“As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to make updates and improvements to the ResponsiBLUE app that best support the health and safety of the campus community,” Jim Behm, executive director for enterprise application services in Information and Technology Services, said in The University Record’s article.

When the app was first launched last semester, ResponsiBLUE received mixed reviews from students, some appreciating the reminders to get tested while others questioning its effectiveness. In preparation for the Winter 2021 semester, the University made a number of updates, which includes tracking of students’ mandatory weekly testing and enforcing a completed ResponsiBLUE survey for entry into University buildings.

One of the latest updates will now include a new quarantine and isolation indicator box, which only students who are placed into or asked to quarantine or isolate will be able to see. The indicator will state that the student is in quarantine or isolation but will not specify which, according to The University Record. Users may also view their final day of quarantine or isolation by clicking on the Q/I indicator, which will read “Required.”

The daily questionnaire will also include an additional question: “Have you returned from international travel in the past 10 days?” If the user has traveled internationally within the last 10 days, the app will provide instructions on how to safely return to campus.

COVID-19 testing data from the COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program will be updated “almost immediately” on the app, while data from University Health Service or Occupational Health Services will have a short lag.

Previously, users who opened the app would see a red “X,” which indicated the result of an expired symptom check. The new update will show a yellow indicator box that reads “Start Screening Check,” which will prompt the user to complete the questionnaire, according to The University Record. When the user completes the questionnaire, the screening check indicator will turn green for the next 18 hours.

Feb. 10: Due to limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines nationwide, Michigan Medicine will not be offering first-dose vaccine appointments this week, according to an update from the hospital Wednesday afternoon. Michigan Medicine is currently only receiving enough vaccines to provide second doses to those who have already been vaccinated through the hospital. 

As of Tuesday, Michigan Medicine has administered a total of 56,656 vaccines and has the capacity to vaccinate up to 12,000 people per week, with the ability to expand to 24,000 per week, according to the update. The hospital’s capacity for vaccinating patients far outstrips the available supply.

Hospitals around the country have received significantly less supply than requested, and it is expected that further reductions in vaccine supply will occur in the coming weeks, according to the update.

The state of Michigan is currently sending the majority of vaccines to local health departments, with the remaining 40% going to hospitals throughout the state. Michigan Medicine is currently vaccinating individuals who are either 65 years or older or who meet the criteria for Phase 1A or 1B, which is healthcare workers and frontline essential workers.

Feb. 5: Graduate students living on campus or using campus facilities will be required to participate in the University of Michigan’s weekly COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program beginning Feb. 16, a Friday update from University President Mark Schlissel said. Weekly asymptomatic testing was originally only mandatory for undergraduates beginning the first week of the winter semester. 

The change in policy comes after 11 off-campus “group-living” residences were forced to begin a 14-day quarantine period due to multiple positive cases or large gatherings during the stay in place recommendation, some of which are now being tied to the B.1.1.7 variant, Schlissel wrote.

As of Friday, there are 23 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in Washtenaw County, all of which are associated directly or indirectly with the University, according to an update from Washtenaw County Health Department public information officer Susan Ringler-Cerniglia.

University-associated COVID-19 cases currently account for 34% of all cases in Washtenaw County, according to the University’s COVID-19 dashboard. Schlissel wrote in his email that Michigan Medicine has now administered more than 51,000 COVID-19 vaccines to those eligible but supply is severely limited. 

The Washtenaw County Health Department and the University issued a stay in place recommendation on Jan. 25 for University undergraduates, graduates and professional students due to the confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant. 

The discovery of the B.1.1.7 variant also prompted a pause on U-M athletics, which began Jan. 24. With approval and guidance from University medical experts, U-M athletics resumed “injury-prevention activities and sports-specific training” for many athletes yesterday, according to Schlissel’s email.

Feb. 3: COVID-19 cases associated with the University of Michigan now account for 34% of the total cases in Washtenaw County, according to an update released on the U-M Campus Blueprint website. 11 off-campus “group living” residences are currently under house-wide quarantine restrictions, “due to positive cases among residents or in-person gatherings during the stay-in-place recommendation.” 

The University is providing pop-up testing for those in quarantine to test on day five of their 14-day quarantine period. Currently, all students are encouraged to seek a weekly COVID-19 test with the Community Sampling and Tracking Program, if asymptomatic, and the University Health Services, if symptomatic. 

Ann Arbor community members who live near campus are also eligible to receive testing from the CTSP between Feb. 3 to Feb. 28 at the Intramural Sports Building. Sign-up is not required, though this testing site is only for individuals who are asymptomatic and have not had recent close-contact exposure.

The increase in COVID-19 cases comes after the Washtenaw County Health Department issued a stay-in-place recommendation on Jan. 25 for all undergraduate, graduate and professional students. The recommendation asks students to remain in place until Sunday, Feb. 7 at 11:59 p.m. 

As of Jan. 25, at least 14 individuals in the U-M community tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19, prompting the stay-in-place recommendation. All U-M athletics also paused operations for two weeks beginning Jan. 24 and ending Feb. 7. There are currently 541 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant identified nationwide.

Jan. 31: Ann Arbor Reasonable Return (A2R2) — an advocacy group seeking a reasonable approach to reopening schools — protested in front of the Ann Arbor Post Office on E. Liberty St. to demand in-person options for AAPS. More than 600 community members have signed a petition for in-person options, and nearly 130 physicians and pediatric providers signed a letter supporting A2R2’s goals.

Since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut down all K-12 schools in Michigan at the start of the pandemic, the district has implemented a virtual learning plan called Reimagine Learning to help students succeed during the pandemic. In early January, Whitmer announced that the state was recommending that all K-12 schools offer in-person learning options by March 1.

Many parents and Ann Arbor residents who oppose a return to in-person learning fear that opening schools could widen disparities that exist for people of color, particularly Black people, who are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The district, as well as some parents and teachers, also cite the lack of vaccines for teachers and the cluster of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant in Ann Arbor as reasons to stay with virtual learning.

Jan 25: One week into the winter semester, the Washtenaw County Health Department is recommending all local University of Michigan students — including undergraduate, graduate and professional students — stay in place for two weeks to prevent further spread of COVID-19 cases, including those of the B.1.1.7 variant. According to the Wednesday press release, since the semester began on Jan. 19, 175 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed among University students. 

“Students are permitted to leave their residence only to participate in limited activities, including in-person classes, work or research that cannot be completed remotely, obtaining food and medical care and other approved activities,” the Washtenaw County Health Department press release states.

Other approved activities include accessing essential technology at designated study areas that provide for single-person study space; obtaining COVID-19 testing or vaccination; participating in clinical rotations, student teaching or other off-campus experiential learning assignments held in-person; participating in physical activity outdoors in groups of no more than two; engaging in religious practice activities and volunteering in approved vaccinations and testing efforts.

The recommendation is in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 7.

Jan 23: All University of Michigan athletics will be paused for two weeks starting Sunday, Jan. 24 in accordance with a recommendation from the state health department according to messages obtained by The Daily and confirmed by a source close to the athletic department. The order, which halts all athletic activity including practice, is limited exclusively to U-M athletics after a recent influx of positive cases within several Michigan teams. 

According to a statement released by the athletic department Saturday night, the Wolverines have been following Big Ten testing and reporting protocals, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is taking a more stringent approach to the novel COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant.

A source told The Daily that there were five confirmed cases of the new variant, with 15 more presumed positives throughout the athletic department. The novel strain was first introduced to Michigan at the beginning of the semester by a U-M athlete traveling from the United Kingdom. All members of the athletic department are expected to quarantine for 14 days.

"Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools," said athletic director Warde Manuel in the statement released Saturday night.

Jan. 23: The Washtenaw County Health Department has been made aware of possible public exposure to the new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7., at two locations in Ann Arbor. As a precautionary measure, county officials recommend that people present at the Meijer on Ann Arbor Saline Rd. from 9:00 to 10:00 am on Jan. 17 and Briarwood Mall, 100 Briarwood Circle, from 1:00 to 2:00 pm on Jan. 17 immediately get a COVID-19 test.

A total of five individuals in Washtenaw County have tested positive for the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7., according to a Washtenaw County Health Department press release from Saturday afternoon. Three of these cases were discovered in the past week, all of which had ties to the University of Michigan, including the first known case in the state. It is not known if all five cases in the county are connected to the first case, the press release stated.

Elsewhere in Michigan, another positive B.1.1.7. case has been identified in an adult male from Wayne County, according to a separate press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Saturday evening. 

Though county officials say brief public exposures are not normally a concern for COVID-19 exposure, the B.1.1.7. variant is more prone to transmission. There is no indication of the variant having more severe clinical outcomes compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“The new variant is present in Michigan and we are at risk of seeing more spread of COVID-19,” Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS, said in the MDHHS press release. “Everyone should do their part to end this pandemic. Get tested if you have been exposed, have symptoms, or have recently traveled to an area with a new variant spreading.”

Local and state officials are offering no-cost COVID-19 testing sites on Jan. 24 from 12:00 to 5:00 pm at Pioneer High School, 601 W. Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor, MI. Pre-registration is available but not required, according to the WCHD press release. More information is available here. Additional and ongoing testing sites are also available at the WCHD website.

Correction: A previous version of this update stated an incorrect date for when possible exposure to the variant occurred. Those who visited Meijer on Ann Arbor Saline Rd. or the Briarwood Mall on Jan. 17 at the specified times should get tested immediately.

Jan. 22: In a press conference Friday morning, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced indoor dining at restaurants and bars will be permitted starting on Feb. 1 with capacity limits and added safety measures. Whitmer previously predicted on Jan. 13 that indoor dining was likely to resume on Feb. 1 if infection rates in Michigan continue to decline.

For the 12th week in a row, Michigan has reported a continued decrease in cases. Michigan’s current positivity rate is 4.9%, the lowest it has been since Oct. 15. Whitmer also announced that groups with no more than 10 people from two households may gather in non-residential settings, opening up business for many indoor attractions like movie theaters and stadiums. 

Restaurants and bars may have indoor seating so long as tables are six feet apart and capacity is limited to 25%, with no more than 100 people inside. Additionally, restaurants and bars offering indoor dining must close by 10 p.m. at the latest. 

The updated measures come after Whitmer issued an epidemic order on Nov. 15 that temporarily paused indoor dining.

At the University of Michigan, University President Mark Schlissel cautioned the campus community to commit to social distancing, mask wearing and other preventative measures as positive cases continue to increase in Washtenaw County in an email Friday morning. As of Thursday, at least three individuals with ties to the University have tested positive for the new B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, which is believed to be more contagious.

“I cannot overstate the importance of these public health measures as two of our Campus Response Metrics are currently being met: the local community metric for Washtenaw County of more than 70 new cases per million and five days of sustained increases in cases in the U-M community.”

The University first began meeting these response metrics on Oct. 2. On Oct. 20, the Washtenaw County Health Department issued a stay-in-place order for undergraduate students as cases continued to rise.

Jan. 21: Three total cases of the B.1.1.7. variant of COVID-19 have been identified in the University of Michigan community, according to a University press release Thursday evening.

It was publicly announced Thursday evening that the first case of the variant in the state of Michigan, identified last week, had ties to the University. Two more female residents in Washtenaw County with ties to the University have been diagnosed with the variant, and both of these cases had been in close contact with the first case, the press release stated. 

According to the University press release, all three individuals have been isolated and are experiencing mild to no symptoms. All close contacts have also been tested and are quarantining, the press release said.

Jan. 19: The ResponsiBLUE application has been updated and expanded for the Winter 2021 semester. The University of Michigan first launched ResponsiBLUE during the Fall 2020 semester to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, aid in circulating public health knowledge and ensure student safety.

The app asks students to self-report COVID-19 symptoms. During the Fall 2020 semester, students were not supposed to be allowed to enter any U-M buildings or dining halls for 18 hours if they reported symptoms.

In an effort to minimize any COVID-19 outbreaks during the Winter 2021 term, the University has put in place weekly mandatory testing for all undergraduate students who live on campus, are registered for an in-person or hybrid class or come to campus for research, work or have other activities in campus buildings.

ResponsiBLUE has been updated this semester to track students’ mandatory weekly testing. It now displays a student’s testing status by noting a “COMPLETED” or “EXPIRED” status at the end of the symptom check process. New in the winter semester, to access campus buildings and facilities students must have a completed, negative COVID-19 test from a U-M lab and not report any symptoms. However, the ResponsiBLUE app does not display student’s test results.

Jan. 16: A Washtenaw County woman has contracted the new B.1.1.7. COVID-19 variant, the first known case in the state of Michigan, according to a press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The new variant is believed to be more contagious, but not any more severe, than the original COVID-19 virus that has been circulating in the United States since early 2020. The higher rate of transmission could increase the number of hospitalizations and deaths resulting from the virus if it spreads widely in Michigan. 

Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health at MDHHS, said in the press release that to combat spread of the new variant, Michiganders should continue to wear masks, social distance, avoid crowds, wash their hands often and make a plan for getting a vaccine when it’s their turn.

Jan. 15: University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel joined several University experts Friday in the first COVID-19 briefing of 2021 to discuss the updated COVID-19 testing procedures for students and faculty during the winter semester, vaccine shortages and plans to continue vaccinations as soon as doses are made available.

At the briefing, Schlissel said the University would eventually vaccinate everyone and currently has the capacity to vaccinate 28,000 people a week if enough vaccines are available. Nationwide shortages of COVID-19 vaccines are hindering efforts to speed up vaccination rates as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise. For the duration of the winter semester, the University is mandating all students who live in campus housing to get tested weekly. The saliva-based COVID-19 test will be administered at several campus locations and results can be tracked through the ResponsiBLUE application. Students are able to register for their own testing time slots online.

Rob Ernst, executive director of University Health Services, explained that this new testing system was created partly in response to the high demand students expressed in the fall. Students living off-campus while attending classes virtually can schedule their own tests as needed.

“We expect people will engage in the testing — we heard it loud and clear through the fall semester that people wanted more testing, so I don’t expect that this will be a big problem now that we’ve made the capacity to provide the testing available,” Ernst said.

Jan. 13: Indoor dining will most likely resume in Michigan on Feb. 1, nearly three months after it was temporarily shut down, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Michigan will also allow indoor group fitness and exercise classes, including K-12 extracurricular activities, to resume with masks and strict social distancing requirements on Jan. 16. This order will last until Jan. 31, after which the epidemic order is again subject to modification.

Whitmer then acknowledged the shortage of vaccine doses in the state and said she has taken steps to increase its supply, including requesting that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services release vaccines being previously held back by the Donald Trump administration, which has been granted. Whitmer also requested permission from the federal government to directly purchase vaccines from the manufacturer. Whitmer also announced that Meijer is the state’s initial pharmacy partner for receiving and administering COVID-19 vaccines. Meijer will administer the vaccine in a limited number of stores in Wayne County to residents 65 and older, starting the week of Jan. 18.

Jan. 11: Though the state of Michigan announced a move last week to begin vaccinating people over 65 and some essential workers on Monday, Michigan Medicine unexpectedly paused their Phase 1B distribution plan Monday due to a lower than expected vaccine supply made available to the state. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that anyone who receives the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines must get both doses on time, rejecting ideas to stretch the supply by administering only one dose or by extending the second dose timeline. The pause by Michigan Medicine will ensure that those in Phase 1A who are scheduled for their second dose can receive it without any delays, Michigan Medicine director of public relations Mary Masson wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily on January 11.

Health care institutions across the country are experiencing high demand among eligible recipients for the vaccine that cannot be met by the initial supply several states received. 

Jan. 7: Michigan Medicine announced in a press release Thursday they will begin vaccinating patients 65 and older next week, with invitations to schedule appointments going out starting Monday. The announcement comes a day after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moved the state into a new phase of vaccine distribution, allowing residents over the age of 65 and many essential workers to receive the vaccine.

Patients must be under the care of a Michigan Medicine primary care provider or have visited any Michigan Medicine provider in the last two years to receive an invitation. Appointments are required and are not open to the general public. 

According to the press release, Michigan Medicine has so far administered 13,863 of the 21,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine it received to physicians, employees and healthcare students in Phase 1A. 6,661 appointments are scheduled through Tuesday. Michigan Medicine administers more than 90 percent of its vaccine supply each week and hopes to ramp up capacity to 3,400 vaccinations a day, depending on supply. 

The state of Michigan has over 200,000 residents who are 65 and older. Sandro Cinti, professor of infectious diseases and one of the leaders of Michigan Medicine’s vaccine distribution effort, said vaccinating this entire group could take two to three months. 

“Our healthcare teams have worked tirelessly to care for all of our patients throughout this pandemic, and every shot in the arm makes our community safer,” Cinti said.  “However, everyone still needs to remain vigilant because this fight against COVID-19 is a marathon, not a sprint. We have millions more to vaccinate. We still need people to wear masks, practice social distancing, stay home if you can and wash your hands.”

Jan. 6: Michigan residents over the age of 65 and some essential workers — such as school and child care staff, frontline responders, and corrections staff — will be able to start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this upcoming Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced in a press release Wednesday afternoon. 

While the current vaccination phase is not complete, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

“We knew all along that one phase may begin while the other one is not complete,” Khaldun said. “It is very possible that there is a health care worker right now who may not have a vaccine yet, but we’re starting with another group. Again, our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible as quickly as possible.”

Dec. 31: Michigan Stadium officially opened its doors Thursday as a site for vaccine administration through Michigan Medicine, first welcoming a team of health care professionals and frontline workers to receive the shot. 

David Miller, president of Michigan Medicine said a total of about 2,000 vaccines will be administered at Michigan Stadium each day starting December 31, in addition to those being administered at the hospital. He said Michigan Medicine chose to use the stadium due to its size and accessibility. 

“That scalability was important and having enough space to ensure appropriate public health measures, easy access (and) the ability to scale over time as we increase the number of vaccinations being administered every day,” Miller said. 

Dec. 30: Some health care workers at Michigan Medicine are dissatisfied with the health system’s vaccine prioritization plan, alleging that the algorithm used to determine who gets the vaccine first does not accurately prioritize those who are at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure in the hospital setting. 

The concerns mainly stem from members of the House Officers Association, a union representing resident physicians at Michigan Medicine. Resident physicians are medical school graduates who are training in a specialized field of medicine, some of whom directly interact day-to-day with COVID-19 patients. 

In a Dec. 22 email to The Daily, Michigan Medicine spokesperson Mary Masson said the health system will be following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for vaccine prioritization.

HOA had originally planned a protest for Dec. 22, but canceled it after Michigan Medicine provided more transparency on the vaccination process. While HOA did cancel the protest, the association still disagrees with Michigan Medicine’s decision making, HOA leaders Tarter and Steve Smith wrote in an email to members.

Read The Daily’s previous COVID-19 coverage here.

COVID-19 numbers around the state:

Here is a link to two interactive COVID-19 data graphics, and here is a link to get more county data in the state of Michigan. One tracks the current case and death count in Michigan by county. The other tracks the case and death count over time. Hover over the graphs for more information. 

Here’s how to keep up with The Daily: 

Check our website,, for our latest print and multimedia content. Follow us on our InstagramTwitter and Facebook. Our handle on all platforms is @michigandaily. Subscribe to our YouTube channel at The Michigan Daily. Download The Michigan Daily app on your iPhone. Subscribe to our Weekly Roundup newsletter to get each week’s most pressing stories straight in your inbox.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.