Officials urge 38,000 MSU students to quarantine 14 days after COVID spike

Health officials are pleading with Michigan State University students to quarantine for 14 days to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19. (Shutterstock)

The Ingham County Health Department on Saturday urged all Michigan State University students to quarantine for two weeks to halt a rapid growth in coronavirus cases linked to the campus.

The quarantine currently is a recommendation but may become mandatory if case counts continue to skyrocket, according to a news release from the health department.

As of Saturday, there were at least 342 people affiliated with Michigan State University who have tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 24, according to the county. In the three weeks prior to Aug. 24, there were just 23 MSU-linked cases. 

MSU officials don’t have an exact count on the number of students living in East Lansing this fall, but spokesperson Emily Guerrant said that in a typical year, about 70 percent of the school’s 55,000 undergraduate and graduate students live off-campus. That would mean about 38,000 students are living near the campus, even though dorms are now mostly shuttered to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The quarantine recommendation, also agreed to by East Lansing and Michigan State officials, starts immediately and runs through 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26.

Students in quarantine should remain at home for the next two weeks other than to attend in-person instruction, labs and intercollegiate athletic training, according to the release. 

The quarantine recommendation in many ways mirrors Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order from earlier this year, asking students to stay in their homes except to work or to obtain food, medicine, medical care, or supplies that are needed to sustain or protect life when such cannot be obtained via delivery.

County health officials said at least a third of new cases had recently attended parties or social gatherings, and at least one-third of those gatherings are associated with a fraternity or sorority, according to the health department news release.

MSU’s own count of coronavirus cases is lower, currently about 200. Guerrant said MSU doesn’t question the health department’s higher count. MSU only tracks positive coronavirus tests for students and staff who take the tests at campus facilities — a student who goes to a hospital drive-thru testing site wouldn’t have their results reported to the health department, not MSU.

“This is an urgent situation,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said in the news release announcing the quarantine recommendation. 

“The exponential growth of COVID-19 cases must stop. I am concerned about the health and safety of the MSU community, and importantly, I am seriously concerned that unchecked transmission locally will affect the health and safety of all Ingham County residents.

“If we do not slow the spread immediately, we will be dealing with the consequences across the county for months to come,” Vail said.

The uptick in cases began as students returned to the East Lansing community for the fall semester, according to the health department release. Although the vast majority of MSU classes are online, many students had binding off-campus leases or simply desired to physically return to the university community.

“MSU is committed to doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Michigan State University physician David Weismantel. “The safety of our entire community is a priority and we all have a role to play in preventing the spread of the virus. This recommendation from the health department is another tool to help us do just that.”

Michigan State closed its residence halls and moved virtually all its classes online in August, shortly before students were set to move back to East Lansing. Students and staff are required to wear masks when on campus, and East Lansing officials have mandated masks in the downtown business area around the campus.

Those efforts appear to have had little impact on social gatherings off-campus, where the majority of students live. MSU’s Guerrant said the limit on social gatherings is 25 people. Many parties that East Lansing Police have been breaking up have been in the range of 40-50 people. “This [spike] is not from one [huge]  event,” Guerrant told Bridge Saturday, but “from many small gatherings.”

“We are urging students to understand the imperative role that they play in stopping this community spread and, ultimately, saving lives,” East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens said in Saturday’s health department news release. “While we know many students are doing the right thing, we are still seeing far too many social gatherings in the off-campus community, where individuals are in close contact without face coverings.”

Other universities and colleges in Michigan have also faced spikes in coronavirus cases as students returned to campus. Grand Valley State University currently has 462 confirmed cases; Adrian College has 227, and Central Michigan University has had 263 cases linked to its students returning to Mount Pleasant since mid-August, according to the Central Michigan District Health Department (CMU officials say there are only 54 confirmed cases of students and staff since Aug. 31).

Across the state, there are now more than 1,500 confirmed coronavirus cases linked to college campuses since campuses reopened this fall.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Sun, 09/13/2020 - 5:28am

What are the stats for UM?

Bob Hoff
Sun, 09/13/2020 - 9:29am

I wish these articles that identify the infection rate would also publish the hospitalization rate. In this article I assume that all infected students and staff are dealing with this on their own and no hospitalizations and no deaths.....

Jen Gorman
Mon, 09/14/2020 - 9:39am

Bob, you say that because you seem to be in denial about where we were six months ago. You think the pandemic is either a hoax or just hype to hurt the president. The info you want about hospitalizations and deaths will follow weeks from now. If you recall, the virus spreads exponentially as it spreads, relatively flat at first. Things will only get worse as the weather gets colder people start to spend more time inside where the virus spreads more. Tracking the spread right now is enormously important because it will lead to community spread in addition to affecting students. These college students travel to see their families, friends at other colleges, friends back home. They shop in stores, go to gyms, and socialize exposing many non-college students. You promote ideas inline with people who support President Trump. He seems only concerned about winning reelection. He said he recognizes the viral threat is great, but that he wants to downplay that threat. We heard the Woodward tapes and here is what Trump's supporters said at his rally in Michigan:
President Trump should tell his supporters at his rallies to socially distance themselves and to wear masks. If he is not comfortable enough to walk among them and shake hands, he seems like he only cares about himself, high on his stage like a modern Marie Antoinette, not a man of the people as he wants us to believe.

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 10:55am

Don't forget that university students and partying/hookup culture are synonymous. Make America sick again?

Mon, 09/14/2020 - 9:41am

As the article states, the numbers are most likely under reported.