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More than 900 COVID-19 cases reported at Michigan colleges and universities since August

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

Michigan colleges and universities have reported more than 930 COVID-19 cases since the start of August, according to publicly available numbers compiled by Michigan Radio.

That number is likely an undercount because many private universities do not post regular coronavirus updates on their public websites. One of the largest outbreaks in the state is at Adrian College, where college president Jeffrey Docking confirmed 131 positive cases as of last Monday. The Adrian Daily Telegraph reports the number rose to 200 cases by the end of last week, though the college hasn’t confirmed that total.

The Lenawee County Health Department issued an emergency order last week to try to contain the outbreak at Adrian College.

As of Monday, the university with the largest number of reported cases isGrand Valley State University, with 271 total confirmed cases. GVSU says most of the cases are among students who live off campus.

The increase has led to the largest spike in daily case counts in Ottawa County since the pandemic began, but the Ottawa County Health Department says so far, there isn’t cause for alarm.

“There’s little evidence that we have of a broader increase in community-wide spread, although we are closely monitoring that,” says Kristina Weighmink, with the health department.

Weighmink says the increase in cases appears to be because of widespread targeted testing on college campuses, not because of an increase in community spread. GVSU reports that 3.32% of tests of students and staff have come back positive so far. The positivity rate for the state as a whole was 3.4% as of Friday.

Still, she says people should be cautious and responsible.

“If people think they may have been exposed to COVID-19, we strongly encourage they get tested,” Weighmink says. “And if they’re not sure, if they are waiting to see if they develop symptoms, we ask that people make sure that they quarantine.”

Across the state, health officials in Washtenaw County are also preparing for cases. The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus has reported 89 positive cases since the start of August, according to the university’s dashboard. Eastern Michigan University, which delayed the start of in-person classes, says it will have a dashboard with updated numbers in the coming days.

Dr. Juan Marquez is the medical director for Washtenaw County. He says even if cases spike at the two large universities, his office doesn’t have the authority to shut classes down. That decision would have to come from the universities themselves, or the state of Michigan.

And it’s not clear shutting down would be the right move.

“Something that we’re trying to wrap our heads around is that there are also unintended consequences of doing these things,” Marquez says. “In the spring, when the university did close down all the classes, what we saw was basically an increase of students, young people, with free time on their hands.”

Marquez says if colleges shut down while places like bars remained open, the virus could continue to spread.

But so far, most colleges and universities say the outbreaks on and near campus are under control. Those who have tested positive have been told to isolate.

In parts of Lenawee County, home to Adrian College, outside gatherings are now limited to 25 people, and inside gatherings are limited to 10 people. Anyone who violates the emergency order from the county health department could face a misdemeanor charge.

Colleges and universities say they will continue to test students and staff and change plans if needed.

Click below for latest public data from each college and university (note: not all colleges and universities report coronavirus data to the public).

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor campus

Michigan State University

Central Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University (dashboard is expected in the coming days - you can check back here)

Western Michigan University

Northern Michigan University

Grand Valley State University

Saginaw Valley State University

Lake Superior State University

Wayne State University

Oakland University

Ferris State University

Michigan Technological University

Northwestern Michigan College

Calvin University

Hope College

Sienna Heights University

Olivet College

Albion College

Aquinas College

Alma College

College for Creative Studies

Concordia University

Spring Arbor University

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
Will Callan, a reporter for Michigan Radio, hails from the Bay Area, where he lived in Oakland and San Francisco and reported for local newspapers and magazines. He enjoys a long swim in chilly water (preferably followed by a sauna) and getting to know new cities. That's one reason he's excited to be in Ann Arbor, which he can already tell has just the right combo of urban grit and natural beauty to make him feel at home.
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