The University of Michigan has updated its emergency response protocol for COVID-19 on May 12 and 13 after the deadline federal COVID-19 public health emergency May 11. Changes named “a new stage” by the UM administration, will apply equally to faculty, staff and students of the university.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Robert Ernst, the company’s executive director University Health Servicesaid the new response is designed to emphasize individual responsibility while taking into account new knowledge and experience in the fight against COVID-19.
“I think we’re at a time where we understand the infection a lot more (and) we have more tools to protect ourselves,” Ernst said. “We’ve actually moved more towards individualized risk assessment systems and then explaining to people what tools they have to protect themselves. I think the emergence of herd immunity, both through pre-infection and vaccination, was an important point (for our response), as was the emergence of better treatments and much better information.”
The university’s new phase primarily reverses some of the emergency health decisions taken at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including free medical care for COVID-19 and emergency paid leave for faculty and staff. Students and faculty covered by university health insurance will now be charged a co-pay for services related to COVID-19. The university also closed Community Sampling and Tracking Program as part of a new phase.
Ernst said he is proud of the measures the university has taken to support faculty and staff in the midst of the pandemic, including implementing additional paid leave for all employees who have contracted COVID-19.
“I was extremely proud of this place, by the way, it took care of its employees,” Ernst said. “When I say take care of them, I mean (take care of) their livelihoods, and (we) protected a lot of jobs. The nature of work has changed a lot, but our institution has created systems to be adapted to the people who work here, because we care about the people who work here. Some of these COVID-specific timing mechanisms were part of that strategy.”
Ernst said students living in on-campus residence halls will still be required to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 next year. Ernst said the university sees dormitories as the most likely place for new outbreaks due to students difficulty with self-isolation after a diagnosis of COVID-19.
“We know that although we’re in a different phase of the pandemic, where the very serious complications from COVID-19 are thankfully very different now, we think that high-density residential areas are where we’re most likely to experience failures in the event of an outbreak,” Ernst said. “There is still a requirement by public health authorities to isolate for a certain period after a diagnosis of COVID-19 (and), which is especially difficult if you are a student living in a dormitory.”
The university currently offers quarantine and isolation for students who test positive for COVID-19 and cannot effectively self-isolate, wherever they live. Ernst said that while the university will continue to provide this housing, they are also looking to reduce the number of units reserved for quarantine and isolation to increase access to student housing.
“(Housing issues) was an important part of our strategy,” Ernst said. “It also had a cost because those detention centers are beds that we haven’t been able to make available to students who might want to live in that community. We have deliberately tried to find out how many isolation beds we really need so that we can make these places available for students. It is expected that by autumn we will be able to further reduce the number of places designated for isolation.”
While the university stopped demanding COVID-19 Vaccination for Certain Employees In February, Michigan Medicine and UHS faculty and staff will be required to be vaccinated in accordance with modern recommendations Food and Drug Administration.
“With recent FDA changes regarding vaccine availability, completion of the primary series is no longer anticipated,” Ernst said. “The current expectation and requirement for health care providers at Michigan Medicine and some other places is that new employees receive the bivalent vaccine. This is a relatively new change.”
As the university scales back its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are unaware of the virus. Daisy Yu, a rising senior in public health, said she doesn’t often hear about other students contracting COVID-19.
“From my perspective, I don’t see many people with COVID-19,” Yu said. “Maybe it’s the people around me… most people in the School of Public Health are probably practicing good social distancing, so that it may be from a skewed point of view, but I think the University is not seeing COVID-19 as a bigger issue.”
Yu said that while COVID-19 may not dominate campus at this time, members of the UM community should be vigilant about contracting and spreading COVID-19.
“I think that (because) TV stops showing case numbers, it doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is gone,” Yu said. “We still have to be careful.”
As of 2022, some health experts say they expect COVID-19 to become seasonal virus, like the flu or a cold. U March 2022 an interview with NBC News, Dr. Rachel Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she expects the virus to be more active during respiratory seasonwhich takes place during the winter months.
“We may want to be more vigilant in some seasons,” Walensky said. “Perhaps in the respiratory season, when the situation increases, we will want to wear masks again to protect against both the flu and Covid and all the other respiratory diseases.”
While there are cases of COVID-19 in Washtenaw County there is decreasedErnst said the University is continuing to monitor the virus, as it has not yet reached the point of being a seasonal virus.
“It’s tempting to think that COVID-19 will become (a seasonal virus),” Ernst said. “It’s not there yet, it’s still at a low plateau level, one of the lowest levels we’ve seen in a while, but we’re still seeing people with COVID-19. So we remain vigilant and monitor it. We will adapt our policy depending on the current situation (infections). Our policies today may continue to evolve as we change. If it becomes seasonal, we can adjust.”
Daily reporter Joshua Nicholson can be reached at email@example.com.