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With COVID surging, Michigan State University tells students to stay home

With COVID-19 spreading through residence halls and test positivity rates triple the state average, Michigan State University is asking students to stay in their dorm rooms or apartments.

Theenhanced physical-distance directive,” sent in a letter to students Saturday, will be in effect through Feb 13. The University of Michigan announced a similar directive last week that runs through Feb. 11.

No cases of COVID-19 variants — some of which are believed to be more contagious — have been detected yet at MSU, according to university spokesperson Emily Guerrant. There were 14 variant cases identified at the University of Michigan as of Wednesday.

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MSU officials cited rising test positivity rates in its residence halls as the reason for the directive. The higher the rate of people testing positive, the broader the spread of the virus is likely to be. 

Between Jan. 18-24, 13 percent of COVID-19 tests given to students and staff came back positive for the virus.

The statewide positivity rate was 4.4 percent on Jan. 29.

Tests in recent days at MSU have found that positivity rates continue to rise, Guerrant told Bridge Michigan on Sunday.

“The results we were seeing Wednesday, Thursday and Friday made us decide we needed to take action,” Guerrant said.

Guerrant did not release the positivity rates for those days, but a weekly average for Jan. 25-31 will be posted Monday on the university’s COVID-19 dashboard website.

The number of cases spotted on campus through early detection saliva testing more than doubled in the past two weeks, from 43 the week of Jan. 11-17 to 94 the week of Jan. 25-31.

Students were asked to not gather with others, either on or off campus. Dorm residents were directed to only leave their rooms to:

  • Pick up carryout food or medicine
  • Attend classes or employment that can only be done in-person.
  • Access secure Internet.
  • Participate in COVID-19 early detection testing
  • Seek medical care.

About 10 percent of MSU’s classes are being held in-person. Those classes are primarily labs that involve hands-on activity.

There are between 3,600 and 3,800 students living in MSU residence halls this semester. That’s higher than the 2,400 who lived in dorms in the fall, but still far lower than the about 14,000 who live on campus in a typical, non-pandemic semester. All students are living alone in dorm rooms.

The MSU letter said some students were not following already established social-distancing guidelines, particularly in dorms. “There have been social gatherings, what we would normally consider normal behavior in a non-pandemic setting,” Guerrant said.

Guerrant compared the current COVID surge to a large spike in campus cases in September, when students first came back to East Lansing. She said it’s not surprising there would be another spike as students returned to campus after the New Year’s holiday.

The letter to MSU students said that “if we increase our distance now, we vastly increase the chances of being able to come together safely later this semester.”

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