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COVID-19 cases linked to Central Michigan University climb to 134

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

The number of COVID-19 cases linked to the return of Central Michigan University students to the Mount Pleasant continues to rise, health officials said Friday.

A message for students on the football scoreboard at Central Michigan University.

The Central Michigan District Health Department said Friday it has identified 134 cases of COVID-19 related to CMU students, who began arriving on campus three weeks ago.

Eight of the cases are “probable” and 126 are confirmed. On Wednesday, the department said it had 106 confirmed and probable cases.

They include current students, former students and people living in the area who were identified as associated with cases related to the return of on-campus classes.

CMU said it has 100 students, faculty or staff who have the coronavirus.

“Certainly, we predicted as we bring 15,000 students back to the Mount Pleasant area that we were going to have a rise in COVID-19 cases,” said Heather Smith, a university spokeswoman. “That’s what we’re seeing.

“We just finished up a second week of classes today. We did see a spike in COVID-19 cases amongst our students, the end of last week and into the weekend,” Smith said.

The tally of the health department, which serves eight counties in the central part of the state, includes about two dozen people in the area of the university who may not be associated with the school.

While three large off-campus gatherings — two at fraternities or sororities and one at a house occupied by students — have been a source of infection, officials said, not all the people at the gatherings were associated with the school.

The parties seem to be the sources of the spike in cases in and around campus, officials said.

“What we saw are some clusters of COVID-19 cases related to three houses off-campus,” Smith said. “Luckily, working with the health department, we’ve been able to quickly do contact tracing, to really find out who was in close contact with those who tested positive. And we’re contacting them and putting them into quarantine and isolation."

Public health officials and experts say contract tracing is essential to controlling the spread of the coronavirus, but it can be an onerous task.

“In addition to the health department, we have a team here at CMU of faculty, staff and students from our health professions area who are helping with contact tracing,” Smith said. “That takes a little bit of the burden off our local health department.”

When the school receives the list of names from the health department, Smith said, it is able to decipher which people are members of the CMU community and which are not.