U-M updates metrics used to monitor spread of COVID-19

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The University of Michigan has updated the set of COVID-19 Campus Response Metrics it will closely monitor to help determine whether “more intensive local or campuswide policies” are recommended to slow the spread of the virus.

The metrics replace those first established in September 2020. While many metrics remain the same, others have been adjusted to reflect new methods of monitoring and address concerns about the more infectious delta variant. For example, the university will now watch for increases in case rates for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

The Campus Health Response Committee, a 15-member advisory and coordinating group tasked with supporting the health of the university during the pandemic, will continue to monitor the metrics and work with public health and medical experts to recommend mitigation strategies, if needed, to university leadership.

“As the pandemic continues to evolve, it was important to take a look at the situations throughout the next school year that could warrant a more intensive approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Robert Ernst, associate vice president for student life and director of the CHRC. “Continued focus on these metrics will be important as we evaluate the policies and operational procedures in place to keep our campus as safe as possible.”

The metrics focus on three areas:

  • Disease transmission.
  • Strain on public health capacity.
  • Strain on community and campus health system capacity.

Conditions that would result in a review of policies and procedures include:

  • A doubling within a week of cases that involve students, faculty or staff.
  • A positivity rate of 3 percent or greater among asymptomatic people participating in regular surveillance testing through the U-M COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program.
  • Projections that campus isolation and quarantine housing will reach 80 percent capacity within two weeks.
  • Diminished availability of inpatient and critical care beds at Michigan Medicine.

One metric — that countywide transmission reaches a “high” level according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — was already met on Aug. 20. The transmission level in Washtenaw County resulted in the updated university policy requiring indoor face coverings for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

If a metric is met, it triggers a review of the data by the CHRC, along with other public health and medical experts, as well as a review by university leaders to consider the use of enhanced mitigation strategies. These strategies could include increasing testing for those who are unvaccinated, expanding face-covering requirements to outdoor spaces or residence halls, and increasing assigned seating in classrooms.

“Ideally, any potential responses should be focused on the source of the increase so we can most efficiently and effectively control the spread,” said Emily Toth Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health who also serves on the committee. “If we saw the virus continuing to spread in our community, that’s when we’d look at more campuswide measures.”

Information on campus response metrics and mitigation strategies is posted on the university’s Campus Maize & Blueprint website.

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