The administrations of the University of Michigan (UM) and Michigan State University (MSU) announced on September 14 that they were ending their COVID-19 case notifications for classrooms and barely building spaces two weeks after the start of the semester. The two universities collectively enroll more than 100,000 students, who have been recklessly sent back to campus for in-person learning with thousands of staff and faculty as cases rise and hospitals overflow.
The University of Michigan began sending notifications of possible COVID-19 exposure based on positive cases in university buildings in August 2020. The decision to end the notification program was announced during a week in which the number of cases statewide has risen sharply.
The state’s two-day average infection rate rose to 3,302 on Friday, a level not seen since the last major wave of infections in early May. At least 62 COVID-19-related deaths have been identified in the state between Monday and Wednesday. All 83 counties are currently confirming positive cases, and at least 74 school outbreaks have been documented as of September 13. Reports are emerging this week that the state’s intensive care units and emergency departments are reaching capacity due to the crisis created by the spike in infections.
The reopening of all K-12 and college campuses amid the wave of Delta variants is undoubtedly fueling these spikes in infection. Cases are expected to increase in the coming weeks, despite varying levels of mitigation.
At UM, there were more than 400 confirmed positive cases among students and staff between the last week of August and the second week of September. At MSU, there have been at least 178 confirmed cases in about the same time period.
The MSU and UM administration notices cited the alleged “confusing” and “limited benefit” of sending notices to students and staff who occupy the same classrooms or buildings as those whose test is. positive. To this, the UM announcement cynically added that “Just attending the same class or being in the same building as a person with COVID-19 does not constitute close contact requiring quarantine or testing when everyone is wearing a face cover and the vast majority are vaccinated. “
The UM statement also alleged that “classrooms have not been associated with transmission of COVID-19 due to the university’s blanking requirement, high vaccination rates in the community of the ‘UM and ventilation standards “.
The university has not provided any scientific reports or data to support these claims. To the extent that there is genuine “confusion” about notifications, it stems from their intentional ambiguity. Students had previously expressed concern that the notifications would only inform them of a possible exposure, but not provide specific information about where the possible exposure occurred.
The decision to end COVID-19 monitoring at the state’s two largest colleges reflects a national effort by the two main political parties to ensure schools remain open at all costs. That tens of millions of people, including millions of children, are unnecessarily exposed to the virus is part of the price to pay to oil the cogs of Wall Street. The actions taken at UM and MSU are part of a larger ruling class effort to minimize the danger to public health triggered by the return of in-person teaching to colleges. The goal is to try to “normalize” the coronavirus infection among students and staff.
UM’s announcement was also accompanied by a report that COVID-19 testing on campus has declined for the third week in a row. Campus-wide tests in Ann Arbor fell almost 40%, from 6,838 tests in the first week of September to 4,295 tests in the second week. Meanwhile, the UM campus now accounts for 30% of all cases in Washtenaw County, up 5% from the previous week.
Statements by Michigan state and University of Michigan administrators that classrooms and events are safe are a blatant lie, intended to place responsibility for possible epidemics on students and staff.
Social media posts on both campuses were filled with complaints of near-capacity classrooms and large mask-less events, as well as the emergence of “breakthrough” infections on both campuses among those vaccinated. The UM football stadium, the largest in the country, with more than 109.00 people, has hosted three consecutive football matches to start the semester. MSU also organized a football match in its 75,000-seat stadium. Neither school requires masks for those present. The fact that college football programs, such as those at UM and MSU, often generate more than $ 100 million in annual revenue, is at the root of this reckless disregard for health.
Faculty and graduate students from both campuses have expressed opposition to current policies. At UM, more than 800 instructors and staff have signed a open letter expressing opposition to the fact that only very limited mitigation protocols are in place. The letter cites several medical studies that highlight the growing dangers of the Delta variant and point out, among other things, the limited effectiveness of vaccines alone, the higher transmission rates of the Delta variant and the lack of serious measures for campus closure. because the situation becomes more dangerous.
A UM faculty member commented “sort of as if we were complaining that working conditions could be made safer and they fought back by making them less safe”.
At MSU, the Graduate Employees Union denounced the end of follow-up notifications. “There are still graduate students who are not paid or who do not have health insurance who [MSU] is contractually bound to provide us, but they have no problem forcing us to risk our lives to teach in person. MSU is laughing at us. They plan to hold a protest Tuesday against current conditions on campus unless the university changes its policies, encouraging the Twitter hashtag #SPARTANSWILLDIE.
Typical was a comment earlier in the week on Twitter about the conditions at MSU. “You all have COVID-positive students quarantined in the dormitory with students who 1) were not told about the exposure and 2) did not have COVID. Are you all legitimate spreading shit in these dorms? “
A UM student told the WSWS: “Thursday morning I was in class, and my teacher told us that several students were in quarantine due to covid, and later that same day I received an email saying that my teacher for a class separated was also in quarantine due to covid. “
These developments are also emerging as members of the Employee Lecturer Organization (LEO) at UM consider a tentative contract agreement proposed by the university administration and union leadership. LEO educators went nine months without a contract, and major disputes over better pay and job security on the Dearborn and Flint campuses, in particular, were at the heart of the struggle. However, none of LEO’s public announcements so far have raised the issue of ensuring that lecturers are fully protected against reckless in-person teaching policies. The absence of such protections in the contract should alone disqualify it from any serious consideration by the speakers.
Contact tracing and other mitigation efforts are a critical part of controlling the community spread of COVID-19, and the university’s decision to end its notification program is completely unwarranted. But on their own, mitigation measures are of limited value.
As epidemiologist Dr Malgorzata Gasperowicz explained in a lengthy interview with the WSWS: “[T]here is mitigation, which attempts to put in place temporary public health measures and various controls to slow the spread. It is essentially a reactive strategy used to avoid overwhelming health systems… ”
But what is needed is what the scientific community defines as “elimination” and “eradication” policies, which aim to end the virus completely and not allow it to mutate or persist. to “start a forest fire again”. Such a strategy is entirely possible – and is even moderately pursued in some countries – but requires mass vaccination programs and aggressive public health measures. This would include keeping schools closed to in-person people until the virus is cleared.