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Washtenaw County orders U of M students to stay in place for two weeks

The University of Michigan students walk through the Diag in Ann Arbor.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
With COVID cases rising, U of M students will quarantine for two weeks.

Undergraduate students at the University of Michigan will be required to stay in place for two weeks effective immediately, the Washtenaw County Health Department ordered Tuesday. 

The order ends November 3 at 7 a.m.

According to the order, undergraduate students must remain in their residence, unless attending class, accessing dining services, or carrying out approved work that cannot be done remotely.

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The order outlines that any violation of the order would "constitute a violation of the U of M Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities COVID addendum and may lead to student sanctions up to and including suspension/expulsion."

There have been at least 836 cases of COVID-19 tied to the university, according to data gathered by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Quarantine and isolation housing at U of M also reached 50% capacity Friday.

Susan Ringler-Cerniglia is the public information officer for the Washtenaw County Health Department. She says 61% of the more than 600 probable and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past week have been U of M students.

"The spread of the virus is mainly from social gatherings of students," she says. “We’re reaching really limits on our ability to investigate each case, to identify contacts, and make sure that cases aren’t resulting in additional spread."

Washtenaw County Health Officer Jimena Loveluck adds that the local situation has become critical.

"This order is necessary to reverse the current increase in cases,” Loveluck says. “We must continue to do what we can to minimize the impact on the broader community and to ensure we have the public health capacity to fully investigate cases and prevent additional spread of illness.”

University officials say they have been working closely with the county, and support the decision.

“The university has been working closely with the Health Department all along in response to the pandemic and supports this decision to issue this stay at home order,” says Robert Ernst, executive director of U of M’s University Health Service and associate vice president for Student Life.

“This action is intended to reduce the strain on our capacities for contact tracing and quarantine and isolation housing. Many individuals and off-campus residences are cooperating fully, and we hope this additional guidance on limiting social activities reverses the trend of increased cases related to social gatherings.”

The university says that nearly 80% of undergraduate credits are currently remote, and more will move online in light of the order.

Students living on-campus may only return to their permanent address if they follow U of M testing and checkout procedures to lower the risk that they might carry disease home with them. However, there has been no announcement about housing refunds or credits.

U of M's COVID protocols have previously been called into question by community members. The Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) went on strike in September, demanding increased testing, more robust contact tracing, and more clarity from the university. 

Amir Fleischmann is an officer with the Graduate Employees' Organization, which wanted the University to institute more precautions to prevent outbreaks like this. The strike got some results, he says, but not a frequent, widespread testing program to nip outbreaks in the bud.

"We were right about this. And they were wrong. And they need to admit that," Fleischmann said.

University President Mark Schlissel emphasized that the order is preventative.

"We’re taking this additional step to exercise an abundance of caution, while also making it as simple as possible for undergraduate students to comply with the order, provide choices for students and instructors, and to support those students who may choose to leave Ann Arbor and finish their semester from home."

The order does not apply to varsity sports players, including football players, because they are tested regularly. Big Ten football is still scheduled to begin this weekend.

This is a developing story and was last updated at 5:52 p.m. on October 20.

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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.
Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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