UM students asked to stay-in-place to curtail spread of new COVID strain
University of Michigan students living on or near the Ann Arbor campus are being asked to stay at their homes and not gather in groups through Feb. 7 to stop the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus circulating in Washtenaw and Wayne counties.
The Washtenaw County Health Department made the recommendation, and it has the "full support of the university," health department and UM officials said in a joint press release Wednesday.
The stay-in-place recommendation is to curtail the spread of B.1.1.7. variant, the more contagious strain of COVID-19, that was first identified in Washtenaw County and is now tied to 14 students at UM. There are currently 20 cases of the strain in Michigan, including six in Wayne County, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin.
Five confirmed variant cases associated with sports teams at the university were announced on Saturday. UM athletic department officials over the weekend paused sports for up to 14 days.
The recommendation for UM students is effective immediately through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 7, officials said. However, if variant cases continue to increase, more stringent restrictions may be necessary, officials said.
"This is a critical time for preventing spread of COVID-19, including the rapidly emerging B.1.1.7 variant," UM President Mark Schlissel, Provost Susan Collins and Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon said in a statement. "There is much less margin for error with the more contagious B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, so strict adherence to preventive measures takes on even greater importance."
There are currently about 1,200 undergraduates and 1,600 graduate students living on UM's campus, spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. But the university does not have a good estimate of the number of students living in the Ann Arbor area in off-campus housing.
Students can follow the recommendation and leave their homes to participate in some activities, such as in-person classes and work or research that cannot be completed remotely. They may also leave to get food, seek medical care, go to work if their job can't be performed remotely and for religious purposes.
Students are asked to limit groups involved in outdoor activities to two people.
In-person classes deemed essential are still being taught, said Fitzgerald.
"Our experience from the fall semester found no transmission of the virus associated with in-person classes, which are socially distant with the use of face coverings," Fitzgerald said, adding that fewer than 10% of winter session classes are being taught in person.
Meanwhile, UM's dining halls remain open but offer takeout only, the university posted on Twitter.
“This recommendation is intended to slow any possible spread and give us a better understanding of the extent of the presence of B.1.1.7 variant on campus and to aid in containing any current spread," said Dr. Rob Ernst, associate vice president for Student Life at U-M and executive director of the University Health Service. "We encourage all students to stay in place and only leave their residence for essential activities, including getting tested weekly for COVID-19."
Testing of U-M students since the winter term began has identified 175 COVID-19 cases, and 14 of those are the B.1.1.7 variant, officials said.