U-Michigan students told to hunker down for 2 weeks

Coronavirus

DETROIT (AP) — Students at the University of Michigan were ordered Tuesday to stay in place for two weeks after a surge of coronavirus cases driven by social gatherings on and off campus.

The surge is “overwhelming the ability” of local health officials to confront the pandemic, Washtenaw County health officer Jimena Loveluck said.

More than 1,000 students have been infected since the start of fall term, despite limits on gatherings and classes that are mostly held online. Cases related to U-M represent 61% of total county cases, compared to just 2% in August, Loveluck said.

Students can attend in-person classes and also leave their residence for exercise, work, food, medical appointments, voting and religious services, she said.

The order lasts until 7 a.m. on Nov. 3, Election Day. A similar order was made in September at Grand Valley State University in Ottawa County. That order has since been lifted and replaced with a “staying safe” plan.

The University of Michigan restrictions coincide with the delayed start of the Big Ten football season. Michigan plays Minnesota on Saturday and Michigan State on Oct. 31, although fans can’t attend home games.

In response to the order, university President Mark Schlissel said even more undergraduate classes will shift to remote instruction. Students who want to leave campus housing for the balance of the term could receive a refund or credit.

“Once a student returns home, for safety reasons they will need to remain home,” Schlissel said.

At the state Capitol, House Republicans meanwhile announced a plan to give county health departments more power to craft a response to the coronavirus instead of relying solely on orders from the state health agency, especially if cases aren’t running high.

The benchmarks include less than 55 new cases per 1 million residents over 14 days and a positive test rate under 5% for the same period, excluding jails and prisons. There are other conditions, too.

State Rep. Sarah Lightner said many people in her Jackson County district want clarification about the decisions that are being made.

“They deserve to have a voice in determining the COVID-19 responses that are in place in their own communities,” Lightner said.

The GOP plan comes nearly three weeks after the state Supreme Court threw out orders by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The court said her orders were pinned to a law that was unconstitutional. The governor has rolled out many of the same orders under different laws, especially mask requirements and caps on indoor and outdoor gatherings.

“Top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates leave people confused and without hope,” said state Rep. Greg VanWoerkom of Muskegon County.

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Nichols reported from Lansing.

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Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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