Keeping COVID-19 in check during the winter term


As the University of Michigan gears up to deliver another academic term amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Campus Health Response Committee has finalized several efforts to support the university’s comprehensive winter term plan initially announced Nov. 6, 2020.

Efforts include:

  • Open access to weekly testing for all students, faculty and staff through an easy, two-step process.
  • Increased capacity and locations for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing on campus.
  • ResponsiBLUE App updated to display weekly COVID-19 testing verification to undergraduate students on the Ann Arbor campus.
  • Faculty and staff should continue to work remotely unless instructed otherwise.
  • Live operators are now able to assist callers with COVID-19 inquiries through the Campus COVID-19 Call Center.

The plan draws on public health guidance, broad feedback gathered from the campus community and lessons learned from the fall term.

“As we are accustomed to the excitement that comes at the start of a new academic term on the Ann Arbor campus, winter 2021 will be very different as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise challenges for the campus community to overcome,” said Robert Ernst, associate vice president of student life for health and wellness, and executive director of University Health Service.

“With a sustained high number of cases in the local area, ‘covid fatigue’ setting in, and the peak of cold and flu season fast approaching, now is the time for our community to remain vigilant in our actions to prevent and further reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the campus community.

“The entire U-M community should take proactive steps to keep our campus safe by getting regular testing, wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing and staying home when sick. Each of these actions is important for combating COVID-19 on campus.”

As the winter 2021 term begins Jan. 19, here’s what the campus community needs to know:

COVID-19 Playbook

The COVID-19 Playbook on the Campus Maize and Blueprint outlines the university’s approach to keep the community safe and healthy by slowing the spread of COVID-19. It includes information for faculty, staff and students related to COVID-19 safety, prevention and policy, COVID-19 testing, and health and well-being services and information.

Vaccine distribution

In collaboration with state health officials, distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is underway by Michigan Medicine with more than 20,384 doses of the vaccine delivered to individuals included in Phase 1A.

U-M continues to plan for broad vaccine distribution to the campus community as more vaccine doses become available. To facilitate the vaccine distribution process, all faculty, staff and students, even those who are inclined to wait or defer vaccination, are asked to complete a personal health and vaccine interest questionnaire through Blue Queue.

University health officials continue to recommend that those individuals getting vaccinated continue to participate in asymptomatic COVID-19 testing through the Community Sampling and Tracking Program and follow public health guidance to wear a mask, practice social distancing and stay home when sick.

A Michigan Medicine employee is vaccinated during a clinic at Michigan Stadium.(Photo by Bryan McCullough, Michigan Medicine)

Increased capacity and access to testing

Winter term COVID-19 testing capacity has increased significantly, to nearly 20,000 individuals weekly on campus. At its peak in fall, the university tested approximately 12,000 students as they departed for an extended break between terms.

Regular asymptomatic testing is recommended for all students, faculty and staff on the Ann Arbor campus, including Michigan Medicine. Weekly testing is mandatory for undergraduates on campus or entering campus buildings.

To get tested, participants must register — or update existing registration — and sign up for a testing time at any of the multiple U-M testing locations including: Palmer Commons, Pierpont Commons, Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the Intramural Sports building. Three additional test locations in the residence halls are reserved for testing of students living in Michigan Housing. Enhancements to the test-scheduling process will enable those seeking weekly testing to schedule a recurring test date and time for convenience.

Faculty and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 or a close-contact exposure should contact Occupational Health Services for assessment.

Mandatory testing for undergraduates

All Ann Arbor undergraduate students who live, work on, or enter campus buildings are required to complete weekly mandatory COVID-19 testing through the university. This includes students who are:

  • Living in Michigan Housing.
  • Registered for any in-person courses that meet on campus, regardless of how frequently the course meets in-person.
  • Employed in a position that requires them to come to campus.
  • Conducting research in a campus facility or building.
  • Coming to campus to enter buildings or facilities, such as libraries, unions, Rec Sports and Dining.

Students living off campus who otherwise would not need to come to campus also are encouraged to participate in routine testing through U-M.

Testing through U-M — Community Sampling and Tracking, University Health Service or Michigan Medicine — allows for timely and accurate tracking of testing completion and compliance in support of the public health of our community.

Josiah Walker, a senior studying political science, takes one of the asymptomatic COVID-19 saliva tests offered through the university’s Community Sampling and Tracking Program. The testing is recommended for all students, faculty and staff on the Ann Arbor campus, including Michigan Medicine. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

ResponsiBLUE App update

Each day, all members of the U-M community who enter campus buildings and facilities are required to use ResponsiBLUE to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms by answering a brief set of questions. The tool also offers advice on where to seek care if individuals are not well and gives university officials an indication of the public health of the U-M community as it relates to COVID-19.

The newly updated app now displays, for Ann Arbor undergraduate students, their weekly COVID-19 testing verification by noting a “COMPLETED” or “EXPIRED” status at the end of the symptom check process. Students are responsible for ensuring they have both a green symptom check and a green “COMPLETED” COVID-19 test verification to enter campus buildings.

Reduced density on campus

Faculty and staff should continue to work remotely unless instructed by their department chair or unit leader to return to campus.

Nearly 90 percent of classes are being offered remotely for winter 2021, with in-person classes limited to those most effectively taught through this format or those required for licensure. There are fewer hybrid classes that are partially online and partially in person, based on feedback from instructors about the difficulty in teaching them.

Based on the recommendations by the public health professionals, Michigan Housing significantly reduced undergraduate student occupancy in the residence halls, down from 6,400 students in the fall to approximately 1,200 undergraduates for winter. All students are living in single-occupancy rooms and must have a negative COVID-19 test before moving into residence halls.

Campus COVID-19 Call Center

The U-M Campus COVID-19 Call Center now will provide callers with the option to connect to a live operator when seeking out COVID-19 related campus information and resources during the pandemic. The call center launched in September with a menu option following the recommendation of the Campus Health Response Committee.

The call center now is supported by the Shared Services Center. The phone number is: 734-936-7000. Call center hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.



  1. William Martin
    on January 16, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    Over the past several weeks of reading the articles and emails from the UM President regarding covid testing and vaccination, it has never been mentioned whether or not UM retirees are included. Please clarify the covid testing/vaccination policy for the large number of Ann Arbor residents who are retired UM faculty and staff.

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