Experts discuss new testing plans, vaccine shortage at first COVID-19 briefing of 2021
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.
“This is very messy, a lot of these decisions are arguable, a lot of the advice that we’re getting or mandates from the state or the feds are changing with time, and all we can ask is your forbearance,” Schlissel said. “We are trying to vaccinate as many people as we can, as efficiently as we can, using all the vaccine we can get our hands on.”
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, including the Ross School of Business, 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, said systems are in place to ensure students living in residence halls and attending classes with in-person components are tested weekly. For all students entering campus buildings for study, exercise or work-related reasons, a ResponsiBLUE screening is required to unlock the door.
“For students who live in University housing, we have established procedures for tracking the compliance with doing a weekly test, and we’ll be following up with them directly,” Ernst said. “We’ve established a compliance tracking team that will be monitoring the compliance with the weekly testing for all of those students who are enrolled in those (in-person) classes on a weekly basis.”
Ernst 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.
Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say that after an individual tests positive for COVID-19 and serves their period of isolation, they should not get tested for another 90 days. According to Ernst, the ResponsiBLUE app will reflect this information accordingly for 90 days if a student tests positive for COVID-19 at a University laboratory.
Michigan Medicine has vaccinated over 28,000 people to date and originally planned to continue into Phase 1B of their vaccine distribution plan after Tuesday. Phase 1B of the Michigan Medicine vaccination program will include some frontline essential workers as well as Michigan Medicine patients over the age of 65 and other individuals over the age of 75. Due to a shortage of vaccines, these plans were put on hold, as were appointments for patients to receive their first doses of the vaccine. This pause is to ensure that all individuals who have already received their first dose also receive their second dose.
The Washtenaw County Health Department canceled appointments at its COVID-19 vaccine clinic for Jan. 19 because they did not receive enough doses to continue operations. They assured rescheduling to all individuals who were supposed to receive the vaccine that day when more doses are available, most likely Feb. 9.
“The University groups, such as transportation, the R.A.s, and the residence hall directors have to have close contact with the students that can’t be avoided,” Medical School professor Sandro Cinti said. “The environmental services that clean up places and have to be in close contact… those are some of the groups that are going to be in 1B.”
Phase 1B is also set to include teachers, first responders, manufacturing workers, corrections officers, postal service and public transit employees and workers in food and agriculture industries. Certain groups of University employees, such as graduate students and professors under the age of 65, will likely fall into Phase 2 of the vaccination program which is when the vaccine will be widely available to the general population, or potentially Phase 1C if they have underlying health risks.
Michigan Medicine is following decisions made at the federal level to determine vaccine prioritization. Cinti explained that the state of Michigan is obeying the guidelines set by the CDC.
“The priorities are set by the CDC, the advisory committee on immunization practices,” Cinti said. “They’re a committee of experts that the CDC listens to, and they put out recommendations and we follow those recommendations and then the state follows those recommendations.”
Cinti encouraged people, including graduating seniors, to fill out the Blue Queue form and get vaccinated if given the opportunity since the vaccine must be administered rapidly.
“We do have the priority to protect our populations at highest risk, but another priority is really to move (the) vaccine quickly,” Cinti said. “If you have an opportunity to get a vaccine, get it, because we want to be able to get people vaccinated.”
Daily News Editor Hannah Mackay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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