U-M taking new steps to fight coronavirus

Aerial shot of Ann Arbor campus in summer

This article by Jamie Iseler originally appeared in The University Record on March 13, 2020

The University of Michigan is implementing additional measures to stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, including new workplace policies for faculty and staff, and the cancellation of all Spring Commencement ceremonies.

In an all-campus email sent March 13, President Mark Schlissel encouraged managers to discuss opportunities for team members to work remotely, and announced a one-time bank of paid time off for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Final exams will take place remotely in alternative formats, people are discouraged from gathering socially in large groups, and students who can do so are encouraged to move home as soon as possible, Schlissel said.

Schlissel also announced the Washtenaw County Health Department has confirmed a member of the U-M community has tested positive for COVID-19. That individual is self-isolating in Ann Arbor, he said.

“I recognize the difficulties the outbreak has created for everyone, and appreciate the engagement and support we have seen within our community in recent weeks,” Schlissel said.

“Today, I am announcing a set of changes to accomplish two important goals: further protect health and safety by minimizing the potential spread of the disease within our community and in the broader society, (and) keep all university operations up and running.”

The latest measures follow the earlier announcement that in-person classes will be halted through April 21. Classes were canceled March 12-13 and are set to resume March 16, to be delivered in alternative formats for the rest of the winter semester.

All U-M events convening 100 people or more, as well as similar-sized on-campus events organized by others, will be canceled until at least April 21. Additionally, Schlissel discouraged any large-group social gatherings and strongly recommended social distancing in small groups.

The cancellation of commencement includes both the large campuswide ceremonies and individual school, college and group recognition ceremonies. “We know that this is very disappointing to many, and we are looking at ways to celebrate 2020 graduates in the future,” Schlissel said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced there were 16 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan as of the afternoon of March 13. Three of those cases are from Washtenaw County and are self-isolating at home, according to the Washtenaw County Health Department. Another case is being treated at U-M, according to a statement from Michigan Medicine.

Under the new paid-time-off policy, effective immediately, U-M faculty and staff on all campuses and in Michigan Medicine are eligible for up to 80 hours of paid time off to be used in the case of quarantine, isolation or family care needs related to COVID-19 exposure, illness or other related scenario or a temporary lack of work. Temporary employees will be eligible for a prorated amount of time.

“This is a one-time bank of paid time off for use during the current pandemic,” Schlissel said. Details about the policy and how to access the bank of paid time will soon be available on the University Human Resources website and from human resources offices.

The president also asked that all managers provide opportunities for employees, including students, to work remotely when possible while keeping their units open for business.

“I recognize that not all work can be performed remotely, so I encourage flexibility and creativity,” Schlissel said. “U-M is taking this action to reduce the density of people in physical spaces.”

“Please note that we are not currently moving to our ‘reduction in operations’ protocols, and that we recognize that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all plan that covers every U-M unit, given the size and complexity of our enterprise,” Schlissel added.

“This action to encourage working remotely will remain in effect until further notice, and we recognize there are additional challenges for many faculty and staff presented by the closure of K-12 schools.”

He reiterated that employees who are sick should stay home from work, and all U-M employees who may be at greater risk should contact human resources in their school, college or unit or Staff Human Resources Services for assistance.

“To all employees, I very much appreciate your commitment to our university, students, parents, visitors and patients during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Schlissel said.

“The accounts of your dedication that I have heard are truly impressive, including supporting students, caring for patients, cleaning our buses and facilities, innovating to support our mission, or reaching out to support colleagues during a difficult time.

“We are an excellent university because of the people who work here.”

Other measures announced March 13 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak include:

  • The university has activated its emergency call center to assist those with COVID-19 questions specifically related to U-M responses. It will be available 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at 877-763-3040.
  • The National Institutes of Health has announced institutions may apply for immediate financial support to assist with research operations during COVID-19, and NIH’s disaster policy will allow latitude in items such as application deadlines, quarterly updates, adaptations in clinical trial protocols and staffing changes.
  • The U-M Office of Research is announcing new restrictions for human-subjects research in an effort to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading the virus, and also to preserve personal protective equipment for clinical care.

Measures announced earlier include:

  • All Michigan Dining and U-M Housing will remain operational.
  • The remaining winter and spring sports seasons have been canceled, and all athletic activities, including practices, have been suspended until further notice.
  • All U-M international travel is suspended until at least April 21, with rare exceptions requiring approval. Domestic travel for university business is strongly discouraged.
  • All U-M education-abroad programs will be altered or suspended. All spring semester education-abroad programs will be canceled, and a decision about programs that start July 1 or thereafter will be made in the coming weeks.
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