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Patrols to watch for large gatherings around UM during fall semester

Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

Students thinking of letting loose and attending large gatherings off-campus in the fall at the University of Michigan  might be thwarted: The school and Ann Arbor and campus police are working together to send teams to monitor off-campus behavior that could spread the coronavirus.

Campus and city police departments will deploy teams of two to three people, including students, staff, volunteers and community engagement officers from noon to midnight, seven days a week, at the start of the semester, according to a tweet from the Ann Arbor Police Department.

The teams will move to noon to midnight Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through the fall term.

The groups will canvass the campus and neighborhoods "to serve as a visible presence and reminder to students and other community members of the need to follow public health guidance," the tweet said..

"COVID-19, large gatherings, and harmful alcohol behavior are all concerns this year," the department's tweet said.

The move comes as the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University prepare for fall classes and ascases for college-age students have increased locally and nationally over the summer. Michigan State University, meanwhile, has moved to online classes only for the fall, citing the rise in infections among students in places such as the University of Notre Dame. 

It also follows further restrictions by the Washtenaw County Health Department on outdoor gatherings or events within Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to no more than 25 people. The order "enhances existing state orders and further restricts social gatherings in areas at increased risk for COVID-19 outbreaks as the student population returns to local universities," according to a notice on the health department's website.

The order reduces the size of outdoor gatherings from 100. Indoor gatherings remain limited to 10 or fewer people not in the same household. Face coverings must be worn in indoor settings and at crowded outdoor settings under the state's executive order. 

UM and Eastern require face coverings at all times on each campus.

Washtenaw County has reported a total of 2,371 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date. Cases in those 30 years of age and younger represented 51% of reported cases in the past month, according to the county health department.

At least one member of the Ann Arbor City Council welcomed the initiative.

“We don’t want to overwhelm our emergency services with issues the ambassador program can take care of, said Councilmember Ali Ramlawi. “I think a part of our collective vision here in Ann Arbor is to have community-based policing, community-oriented policing, and that is more than just issuing tickets. It is to engage with our public, educating our public and helping them. So, from that perspective, we welcome it."

“Our biggest concern is the large groups of people, coming together, just for socialization or the 19- or 20-year-olds who feel invincible and not fully understanding the consequences of their actions,” Ramlawi said.

Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson said she appreciates the intervention efforts.

UM has created a hotline to allow public health concerns to be addressed "via a system that has been designed to reduce the need for law enforcement at a first response."

Anyone who witnesses a non-emergency health concern in off-campus student housing areas can call (734) 647-3000.

UM is requiring students moving into university dorms and apartments to be tested for COVID-19 before they arrive on campus and mandating that those who test positive stay home for at least 10 days before coming to Ann Arbor.

The university also is asking students and staff to check themselves daily for virus symptoms and expects to test 3,000 to 3,500 members of the campus community each week for COVID-19 on a random opt-in basis.

According to a UM dashboard, the university's Ann Arbor campus recorded 13 cases in the 14 days ending Wednesday, with a positivity rate of 1%. 

Ypsilanti Mayor Lois Allen-Richardson urged safety for the return to the fall semester. 

“Times are not normal, and we must continue to operate as safely as possible," Allen-Richardson said. "That means interacting differently and with more precautions in place throughout our community and our campuses.”