The entire University of Michigan athletic department is on lockdown.
This comes after a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommendation Saturday that the University suspend athletic activities as a result of the introduction and ongoing spread of the newest B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 within the athletic department.
The variant — first discovered in the United Kingdom — is estimated to be around 40-70% more infectious than the current SARS-CoV-2 strain that is COVID-19 as we know it. It was brought to Michigan (both the state and University) by a Michigan athlete traveling from the U.K. at the start of the winter semester.
Now, with all athletics suspended and the entire program subjected to a full 14-day quarantine, questions arise about how this could have happened.
What it comes down to is exactly what’s being done right now — two entire weeks of isolation.
Currently, the U.K. is on the CDC’s list of countries with high-risk travelers, and travel from the U.K. to the United States is prohibited — with a few exceptions. Included within those exceptions are F-1 student visas and U.S. citizens returning to the states, one of which the U-M athlete almost certainly fell under.
Now, I’m not saying people should not be able to return home to the U.S. or that a student should not be able to visit their family in the U.K. and then come back. That’s not what inherently caused the B.1.1.7 outbreak in the athletic department. Instead, it’s the inability to enforce quarantining on individuals.
The CDC requires a negative COVID-19 test result one-to-three days prior to traveling back to the U.S., and although that is a good procedure, it is the only enforceable step and not impervious to the transmission of the virus, as proven by the U-M athlete. The CDC recommends a 14-day quarantine, but at every level, it has no power to actually enforce it.
A lot of the things CDC recommends during travel can only be enforced by the privately owned, for-profit operating airlines who wouldn’t do anything to discourage travel because they’re already struggling as is. And once a passenger lands, they can only be regulated by state protocols, which have a huge degree of variation from mandatory quarantine to not even requiring masks.
In Michigan? No travel restrictions. No required quarantine.
At the University, we can assume the athletic department requires a quarantine period until a negative PCR test is presented after the individual’s arrival to campus. Unfortunately, tests can come back negative despite the person being infected with the virus. For three to five days after being exposed, a PCR test can still turn up negative, meaning if a student-athlete contracted it on any part of their journey back to Ann Arbor and tested negative up to five days later, it is not guaranteed they are virus-free.
But how much difference could a full 14-day required quarantine make? Honestly, quite a bit.
Just look at Australia, one of the more COVID-conscious countries with stringent policies:
“All international travelers are required to quarantine for 14 days at the first point of entry, unless they’re granted an exemption upon request,” per the Australian health department. “Quarantines take place in state-designated facilities and fees depend on the state, ranging from $2500 for one adult in the Northern Territory to $3000 for one adult in New South Wales.”
This requires quarantine in a state facility, meaning it is truly mandated. And though it doesn’t account for the entire scope of reduced cases, the numbers speak volumes.
Per one million people, Australia has 1,128.08 cases and 35.65 deaths. The U.S. has 74,848.97 cases and 1,251 deaths per one million people. That’s nearly 67 times the number of cases and 35 times the deaths after being adjusted for population.
Quarantining and other COVID-19 protocols work, but we don’t have them in the state or majority of the country.
There was never a way to prevent the B.1.1.7 strain from coming to the U.S., and Michigan for that matter, with the current system we have in place. It’s unfortunate it came to Ann Arbor and is making its way through the athletic department, but it was almost inevitable.
Michigan followed all Big Ten protocols and violated no federal or state regulations, it’s just that none of them were — or are — enough. If the athletic department implemented its own 14-day mandated quarantine after the return, a system-wide pause could have been avoided with just one athlete taking a pause.
Now, in a last-ditch effort by the MDHHS to contain the B.1.1.7 variant, Michigan shut down the athletic department for 14 days.
If the right regulations were in place and enforced, it never would have had to.
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