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COVID spurs University of Michigan to close dorms, ask students to stay home

Ron Weiser, who was elected for the third nonconsecutive time chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in February, has been in the middle of multiple recent controversies. (Bridge file photo)

The University of Michigan will close most of its dorms and ask students to stay in their hometowns for the winter semester that begins in January, U-M announced Friday.

With coronavirus cases surging in the state, university officials told students it will hold very few face-to-face classes in the coming semester and require students who venture onto the Ann Arbor campus to be tested for COVID-19.

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“The pandemic hasn’t gone away, COVID-19 case numbers continue to increase in Michigan and around the nation, and the winter will bring new and likely greater challenges,” U-M President Mark Schissel wrote to students and staff. “We know that cold and flu season, colder weather, and ‘COVID fatigue’ present very real obstacles for us. I join all of you in wishing that our winter term could be normal, and we could enjoy the transition into spring free of the anxieties of this pandemic.”

There have been several coronavirus outbreaks among U-M students in the past month. The Washtenaw County Health Department ordered the school’s 31,000 undergrad students to stay home in mid-October to try to stem the growth of cases. That stay-home order ended Tuesday, with health officials saying they were encouraged by a drop-off in new infections.

Since Aug. 31, there have been 1.796 confirmed cases among U-M students and staff. Statewide, a record 5,710 new cases were reported Thursday along with 51 deaths, and state officials fear that 100 people could die per day by late December if the trend continues.

U-M and Michigan State University, 60 miles away in East Lansing, have taken different approaches to education during the pandemic. MSU shuttered its dorms for the first semester, but is reopening them in January for 2,500 students.

Michigan allowed students into residence halls in September. Both schools have had outbreaks affecting more than 1,000 students, but MSU’s cases were centered among off-campus students, while U-M had large outbreaks in its dorms as well as off-campus.

There are currently about 5,000 students living in residence halls at U-M. Those with no place else to go will be allowed to stay in dorms, but must live in single rooms.

Among the changes for the semester that begins in January:

  • More remote classes. Faculty will not be required to teach in-person.
  • Mandatory weekly COVID testing for students who live on campus or who have in-person classes.
  • Those who don’t need to be near campus for in-person classes should stay in their hometowns.

“Planning for the winter semester has been a delicate balance of many important priorities, including safety and public health concerns, our academic mission and the experiences of those in our U-M community,” Provost Susan Collins said in a university publication Friday.

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