The University of Michigan Central Student Government convened via Zoom Tuesday night to talk to Dr. Robert Ernst, executive director of University Health Service and associate vice president for health and wellness in Student Life, about the effects of the Washtenaw County stay-in-place order and U-M COVID-19 testing.

Ernst spoke to the Assembly about the University’s COVID-19 cases breakdown in mid-September, when the number of cases averaged at 40 per day, versus the spike in cases seen in November. He attributed the increased numbers to increased contact among students due to indoor gatherings.

“Essentially (student) activity is just widespread,” Ernst said. “We think it is just as the weather has really changed now, people have moved their social gatherings indoors and there’s been person-to-person spread.”

According to Ernst, the stay-in-place order helped stabilize the number of cases being reported on campus. He said the occupancy in the quarantine and isolation facilities came down to 20% capacity following the order. 

Ernst also mentioned that while there is a possibility that the influenza vaccine might be mandated for those who wish to return to campus in Winter 2021, there will be no mandate for a COVID-19 vaccine due to the possible lack of widespread availability of the vaccine and safety concerns.

Ernst also spoke about the expansion of testing capacity. He said at the beginning of the semester, the University had been relying solely on Michigan Medicine Labs to conduct testing and had the capacity of doing under 10,000 tests per week. He said the University has now partnered with an external lab, LynxDx, to conduct saliva-based testing and increase testing capacity.

Ernst mentioned that the earlier reliance on nasal swab testing hindered testing capacity, as this form of testing had to be administered by a health care provider in personal protective equipment equipment. Saliva-based testing has made the testing process easier and more accessible to students. 

Following Ernst, the Assembly allocated $15,750 towards the purchase of 350 Instacart gift cards worth $45 each to promote healthy eating among students. The gift cards, which are allocated on a first come first served basis, can be used for the purchase of grocery items and will be provided to students virtually. Public Policy senior Amanda Kaplan, CSG president, highlighted the popularity of this program among students.

“We had overwhelming support for this and actually an outpouring of individual emails, getting testimonials as to why this is really meaningful to students,” Kaplan said. “We’re grateful that we’re going to be able to provide more to students.”

LSA and Engineering sophomore Zaynab Elkolaly spoke to the Assembly about the need for CSG to advocate for the defunding of police by the U-M administration. Elkolaly mentioned that in light of the recent commemoration of Aura Rosser, the Graduate Employees’ Organization strike and the Assembly’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is critical for the Assembly to continue pushing for defunding the police.

“I want to stand here and advocate for more action regarding defunding the police and working with the administration to do so,” Elkolaly said. “I want to be able to trust that the people representing me are on this and are regarding it as a legitimate topic that affects people of color on this campus.” 

The Assembly also confirmed LSA freshman Aarushi Ganguly as a first-year undergraduate student ex-officio member.

Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at itznavya@umich.edu.

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