Seeing Rapid Positivity Increase, MSU Orders Students to Stay in Their Dorm Rooms

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Alice Dreger for ELi

All over campus and downtown East Lansing are signs encouraging Spartans to mask-up.

Michigan State University’s administration announced today that new restrictions will be put in place for students who live on campus, starting at midnight tonight and running through at least Saturday, Feb. 13.

On-campus students are being told to stay in their dorm rooms and not to have any visitors. They will also be prohibited from gathering in lounges, dining halls, or other community spaces.

Exceptions include picking up take-out food from cafeterias, dealing with medical needs, attending in-person classes or working at jobs that cannot be done virtually, and exercising outside alone or with at most one other person.

The letter on the matter issued by Senior Vice President Vennie Gore and University Physician David Weismantel speaks to off-campus students in the area, too: “It is our expectation that all students living on campus and within the East Lansing area observe this enhanced physical distancing directive.”

The move comes in response to a rapidly increasing Covid-19 positivity rates on campus since the new semester started combined with the understanding that the more contagious variants of the disease are likely to soon be identified here, based on what public health researchers have already seen. Several cases of the U.K. variant have already been found on the University of Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor.

The goal of the new measures is to reduce transmission on campus but also to stop students from contributing to community spread. Younger people are on average less vulnerable to the most serious effects of the disease, but MSU’s on-campus staff and the greater East Lansing population include many people with increased risk, including older adults.

East Lansing’s zip code of 48823 has been leading Ingham County in number of deaths from the disease. It is also leading the case count.

Source: Ingham County Health Dept.
Source: Ingham County Health Dept.

Since the new semester started a few weeks ago, there have been numerous off-campus student-hosted parties in East Lansing exceeding the allowed gathering sizes. East Lansing’s City Council accidentally let lapse an emergency ordinance that allowed the City to levy a $500 fine for breaking public health rules, but essentially reinstated the law at a specially-convened Council session on Thursday.

East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) has been struggling with the controversy over when to re-open in light of the challenges posed by some MSU students’ high-risk behaviors when it comes to Covid-19 transmission. The current ELPS plan calls for return to school on Feb. 22 for elementary students and Mar. 1 for middle and high school students.

Statewide, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is allowing restaurants to reopen to in-person dining starting on Monday, Feb. 1, but only at 25 percent capacity. The prolonging of restrictions on restaurants is causing some in the area to face tremendous financial stress and even bankruptcy, even as area restaurateurs have told the governor that they understand the need to take the disease very seriously. (Take-out remains available from most local restaurants and is the reason more have not gone out of business already.)

The Ingham County Health Department is expected to start vaccinating people in the 65-69-year age range on Feb. 9. Sparrow Hospital is also managing vaccinations in the area.

You can listen to a special interview of Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail with ELi’s Emily Joan Elliott on the East Lansing Insider podcast, and find all our Covid-19 reporting at this page.

This article was amended shortly after publication to provide the link to the MSU administrative letter and to note the message to off-campus students.

Disclosure: Alice Dreger’s spouse, Aron Sousa, is Interim Dean of MSU’s College of Human Medicine and is a donor to ELi.

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