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University of Michigan hopes for near-normal return to campus in fall

University of Michigan near Rackham and Michigan League
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Students walk on the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus (file photo)

As more and more Michiganders - and out-of-state students - become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, the University of Michigan is planning to have students return to campus for the fall semester, with residence halls filled at nearly 80% in September, and most classes being held in person.

Students and other fans will also be able to attend Michigan athletic events, so long as public health guidance allows.

Dr. Preeti Malani is the Chief Health Officer in the Divisions of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Michigan and an advisor to University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel.

She says the return to normalcy will be phased in. Students will still need to wear masks in the classroom, for example.

"If you think of last year as a switch, you turned off the lights, shut the door, said go home. This is a dial," says Malani. "And it'll dial up and it'll dial back, (but) you know I am actually very optimistic that the fall is going to look a lot like it used to look."

Schlissel echoed both her cautions and her optimism.

"Please look at fall semester as a transition," he says. "It's not going to be neat and clean, it's a lot of uncertainty. It's our intention to be an in-person, residential educational institution, and we're all going to work together to get as close to that as we can in the fall, and presumably all the way there in the winter."

The University also plans to offer more support, outreach and programs for returning sophomores, similar to what is offered to freshmen, because most sophomore undergraduates have not yet experienced a traditional academic year.

The University will also begin phasing in employee returns to their workplaces this summer. 

Staff and faculty are being encouraged to get a COVID-19 vaccine wherever they can get an appointment, and not wait to hear from Michigan Medicine, the University's health system, which is still struggling with low supplies and has not yet managed to offer vaccinations to all faculty and staff over the age of 65.

The state of Michigan now says that all Michigan residents 16 years of age and older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by April 5.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.