University of Michigan publishes guidelines for ongoing COVID-19-related responses and strategies

The University of Michigan is adding clarity and specificity to the factors used when considering further responses and strategies regarding campus operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A set of campus response metrics are measured continuously by the Campus Health Response Committee and mitigation measures are considered based on those factors. The Metrics and Mitigation Strategies document spells out specific information that will prompt consideration of actions such as increased testing and monitoring, increased physical distancing requirements and further campus density reduction efforts.

“We have been using this type of data all along to help guide the university’s response. This document is a way to formalize the data and put it in one place, but these data points are not new,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, the chief health officer at U-M. “Whenever possible, potential responses to increases of COVID-19 transmission will be targeted toward the source of the increase.”

Recommended by the CHRC, a 15-member advisory and coordinating group tasked with supporting the health of the university, the metrics are being tracked across multiple streams of indicators.

The metrics focus on three areas:

  • Disease spread
  • Public health capacity
  • Health care capacity

Response triggers include:

  • Large increases of test positivity
  • Inability to provide prompt case investigation and contact tracing
  • Seriously diminished critical care bed capacity in local hospitals
  • Diminished supply of personal protection equipment

“The recommended approach aligns with what is in place at the state level, not surprisingly because several of the public health experts advising the governor on COVID response are also working closely with the Campus Health Response team,” said Robert Ernst, associate vice president for student life and director of the CHRC.

When any of the situations are identified, a broader review by U-M public health and medical experts as well as leadership would be prompted to evaluate the use of enhanced mitigation strategies. These strategies could include restricting in-person activities; a pause of in-person classes; and switching to remote classes for the reminder of the semester.

Closing all residence halls and sending students home is noted as one potential strategy, but the guidelines also note the care that would need to be taken if that choice was made to minimize the risk of infection to hometown communities.

“Our COVID-19 response metrics detail the range of data around viral spread, public health factors, and health care capacity we are using in our decision-making,” President Mark Schlissel said. “I commend the faculty and staff of the Campus Health Response Committee who worked to develop the metrics as part of their work to support the health and safety of our community during this pandemic. We understand that the university community will have questions and feedback about these plans, and we look forward to hearing them at our Friday forum.”

The president and Provost Susan M. Collins invited the university community to the first Campus Weekly COVID-19 Briefing set for 1-1:45 p.m. ET Friday, Oct. 2. Campus leaders will provide updates and information about campus conditions during the briefing, and Friday’s event will include a discussion about the metrics and mitigation strategies.

The weekly briefing will be recorded and shared for those unable to attend. Community members are invited to submit questions or topics for discussion.

Epidemiologist Emily Toth Martin, a professor in the School of Public Health and member of the committee, said responses to an epidemic are multi-layered.

“Responding to COVID-19 spread is complex and needs to happen within the context of the situation on the ground. We are looking at signals from campus and from our surrounding community to understand the changing impacts of the virus and where more intervention is needed,” Martin said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Martin has been collaborating with the state of Michigan’s pandemic response and was part of the team that developed the state’s dashboard. Along with several colleagues at School of Public Health, she developed the Framework for Monitoring COVID-19 Public Health Indicators, which provided the framework for the current document.

Information, including a dashboard, is updated daily on the university’s Maize & Blueprint website.

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