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U of M students ordered to stay in place, Ingham County worried about football parties

October 21, 2020
<p>Spartan Stadium photographed on Aug. 23, 2019. </p>

Spartan Stadium photographed on Aug. 23, 2019.

As positive COVID-19 cases connected to Michigan State University trend downward, there is no current data to support a shelter-in-place order for students like the order issued today in Washtenaw County for University of Michigan undergraduate students, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said in a media briefing Tuesday. 

25 cases reported last week were connected to the university, down from 86 the week prior. This is in conjunction with a continuously decreasing percent positivity rate which stood at 5.56% last week.  

Data from the University of Michigan demonstrates an increasing rise in case and testing numbers. In the last two weeks, the percent positivity rate rose nearly 2% to 2.9% in the week of Oct. 11. In that week, 301 cases were reported connected to the university. 

“They have students on campus, they have classes on campus, so we talked about that being on the table … but we are certainly not at a point right now to support a shelter in place for MSU students when looking at the case trends,” Vail said.

MSU is set to play against University of Michigan on Oct. 31. With the Ann Arbor campus’ shelter in place order in effect at the same time as a Halloween evening game, Vail said it may be challenging to keep gatherings in check.

Attendance in the stadium is limited to only a couple of tickets per player, Vail said, so inside the stadium is less of an issue than outside.

“We’re trying to get people to stay home to watch games, not travel to go to games, not go out and do watch parties,” Vail said.

Vail said we may be entering or partly through the seond wave already.

Vail had a meeting with all of her Big Ten chief health official colleagues about asking the Big Ten to set metrics for communities as well as their teams for when gameplay was advisable or not advisable. Those metrics, she said, would be significantly higher than where we stand right now.

“What the problem is going to be is that people are going to gather most likely indoors — it looks like it’s going to be cold on Saturday — so you’ll have a lot of indoor gatherings which could result in another spike in transmission as we move forward and then we might be looking at additional restrictions depending on how that goes,” Vail said.

Health officials in the cities and counties of the 14 Big Ten schools have requested the Big Ten to establish metrics to determine when it is too dangerous for game play to continue.

If their testing positivity on all tests exceeds 5% and if the individuals testing positive relative to the total team congregate population exceeds 7.5%, then they are to discontinue practice and gameplay for a week.

Relative spread or metrics in the community may also be relevant to the decision making, Vail said.

With 1,686 COVID-19 cases connected to MSU, Vail said a majority of the Sept. cases were student-to-student, however, these cases would have eventually started to affect the community. 

Vail said that MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. pushed back on whether student-to-student infections resulted in the community spread that would spike hospitalization rates.

“Eventually students are in work places, they’re with family members, they’re at birthday parties, they’re at funerals, they’re at weddings,” Vail said. “I calculated the numbers, I’ve seen all the MSU cases from the 48823 (zip-code) numbers, I don’t have numbers from Oct. right now, but when I looked at Aug. compared to Sept. we had a 125% increase in cases in 48823 unrelated to MSU between Aug. and Sept.”

Though MSU students may not have been hospitalized, there are hospitalizations among the community which come with the increase in cases.

“He’s an infectious disease physician, so I respect him tremendously but … we do know that those are up and we do know that cases are starting to increase in the community,” Vail said.

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