From students returning to classrooms, to staff working in offices, to fans returning to Michigan Stadium, life at the University of Michigan should feel a bit more normal this fall.
Here’s a look at some of the ways the campus has been preparing for the safe return of students and more in-person operations:
Vaccine and mask mandates
All students, staff, faculty and visitors are required to wear a face covering over their mouth and nose on U-M transportation and in most indoor settings. The policy has limited exceptions, including when a person is alone in a single, enclosed, private office with the door closed, eating or drinking, swimming, or receiving a service that requires them to temporarily take off their face covering.
Vaccinated students living on campus may go without a face covering while in their own residence hall, including common areas.
Students, faculty and staff on all three campuses are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Limited exemptions will be granted for medical or religious reasons. Those who receive exemptions will be required to complete weekly COVID-19 testing.
Instruction and campus activities
For the 2021-22 school year, U-M returned to its long-standing practice of local-level decision making about course offerings and course format, Provost Susan M. Collins said. This fall, 91 percent of undergraduate classes will be in-person, 6 percent will be a blend of some in-person and some remote instruction, and 3 percent will be fully online.
Collins said schools and colleges, student organizations, museums, libraries, gardens and other campus offices, including Student Life and Athletics, are making program decisions in alignment with public health guidance. She said in-person learning, both in the classroom and beyond, is an important part of a Michigan education.
“The university is a complex ecosystem of academic programs, student- and faculty-led activities, and social connections,” Collins said. “We are committed to maintaining the vibrancy of this web while protecting the health and safety of our community. I want to thank students, faculty and staff for their cooperation and support as we begin a year of learning and working together.”
U-M’s research enterprise remained fully operational throughout the summer, and there are plans to maintain that level of activity throughout the fall semester, said Vice President for Research Rebecca Cunningham. In accordance with current university guidance, all researchers are required to wear face coverings when working in laboratories and research spaces, regardless of vaccination status. There are no specific density restrictions, and temperature checks have ended.
Cunningham said the Office of the Vice President for Research will continue to partner with teams from across all three campuses to ensure that laboratories and research spaces maintain an elevated level of safety.
“Over the past few months, we have seen our research enterprise continue to ramp up to near pre-pandemic levels of activity,” Cunningham said. “We will continue to work with researchers and their teams to address issues that may prevent full engagement as we meet this next phase of COVID-19 together.”
Cleaning and air quality
Custodial teams have increased their cleaning of high-touch surfaces in common spaces to meet current U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, said Luke Gentles, director of custodial services and grounds. He said disinfection of frequently touched surfaces in public areas occurs once a day, up from once a week prior to the pandemic.
There also are cleaning protocols in place for areas where someone with COVID-19 was known to have been.
“As a department, we’re committed to ensuring the safety of our campus,” Gentles said.
Last year, U-M Facilities and Operations formed an HVAC Task Force to conduct ongoing reviews of CDC recommendations, best practices and standards for the design, maintenance and operation of HVAC systems. Steve Brabbs, director of maintenance services for Facilities and Operations, said U-M was already in line with most of the CDC’s recommendations.
Some practices and equipment were modified. The university expanded fan schedules to increase the number of daily air exchanges in buildings, disabled demand-control ventilation systems to ensure air exchanges were occurring even if buildings were unoccupied, replaced and upgraded filters as needed and increased the percentage of outdoor air when possible in buildings where it wasn’t already 100 percent.
Michigan Dining is bringing back a robust dine-in program to residence halls after primarily serving only carry-out meals during the 2020-21 school year, said Steven Mangan, senior director of Michigan Dining. Officials expect a return to pre-pandemic levels of serving 26,000-28,000 meals a day across nine dining halls.
Chairs and tables that were removed last year and put in storage to keep density in dining halls at less than 25 percent capacity have been put back. For students who prefer to eat elsewhere, take-out meals packaged in reusable containers will be offered at five halls: South Quadrangle, Mosher-Jordan, Bursley, East Quadrangle and Twigs at Oxford.
Staff will regularly clean dining and food preparation areas following strict protocols. There will also be new self-serve sanitation stations with paper towel and disinfecting spray that students can use to wipe down tables, said Steven Giardini, senior associate director of Michigan Dining. Plexiglass barriers will remain up at food service lines.
Mangan and Giardini said they’re looking forward to the return of students.
“We prefer people to be in our dining rooms interacting with not just our staff, but especially each other,” Giardini said. “That’s really what our dining program is built on. We’re excited to get back to that.”
The safety and well-being of students continues to be a priority for all Michigan Housing staff, said Jasmine Clay, director of residence education. Michigan Housing will enforce university mask and vaccination policies and also take additional measures, such as making personal protection equipment available to staff and ensuring spaces are comprehensively cleaned.
Plexiglass barriers are currently up at community centers or front desks, and residents will need to show their ResponsiBLUE app daily screening results to receive services in community centers and package rooms.
About 11,300 people are expected to live in Michigan Housing residence halls and apartment communities this fall, Clay said, compared with more than 12,000 people in fall 2019 before the pandemic. There were about 8,200 residents in Michigan Housing in fall 2020, and as density was reduced according to public health guidance, about 2,800 residents by mid-March 2021.
“It is clear that we have all been affected by the pandemic on a number of levels,” Clay said. “The resilience of our students and staff has allowed us to take what we have heard from our students and what we have observed over the past year, and continue using this information to inform our year ahead. We will continue to adapt to the ever-changing needs of our students as we tailor an experience that assists our residents in feeling connected, valued and seen.”
The outdoor canopies that provided students a place to study and take a break between classes last fall are back.
The university has erected two canopies at Gerstacker Grove on North Campus and two canopies at Ingalls Mall North on Central Campus. One canopy at each of these locations will be unfurnished and reservable for events, and the other will be furnished with tables and chairs as a place where students can drop in to study, relax and eat. In addition, two furnished drop-in canopies for students have been set up near the Michigan Union on Central Campus.
A handful of other canopies have been erected by schools and colleges to be used primarily for their communities. They include canopies at the LSA Building, the School of Public Health and the Ford School’s Weill Hall on Central Campus, and the Lurie Biomedical Engineering Building on North Campus.
The drop-in student canopies are equipped with Wi-Fi. For more detailed information, visit studentlife.umich.edu/article/canopy-information-locations-guidelines.