Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson was invited to give a presentation on NMU's fall semester response to the pandemic during a statewide COVID-19 community response meeting convened Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The virtual session brought together those who have been participating in biweekly regional response calls to highlight successes and discuss work that has been completed and remains to be done in the coming year. Speakers represented counties, state government, an Arab community empowerment organization and higher education.
Among the three universities represented, Erickson was the only president to address the group. His PowerPoint presentation included two statistics about the safety level at NMU this fall: only three COVID-19 cases were definitively linked to a class session out of nearly 25,000 class sessions held during the semester; and there were zero outbreaks in the residence halls beyond a roommate or suitemate situation.
“Northern's goal for fall was to make as much in-person learning and on-campus living and working available as was safely possible,” Erickson said. “We were able to accomplish that for all but five class days at the start of the semester due to delayed results from the mass testing event for all students and employees, and for five at the end of the semester because of the state order for remote learning that went into effect Nov. 18.”
The August “Passport to Campus” mass testing of about 7,600 individuals was required as a condition of enrollment for students and of employment for faculty and staff. Erickson said NMU used CARES ACT and other university funding to cover nearly $750,000 in costs associated with that event and the voluntary surveillance testing held biweekly throughout the semester.
“The passport event was key to Northern's fall in-person, on-campus living success for several reasons,” Erickson said. “It was comprehensive across campus. It tested symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, and all but two of the positives were asymptomatic. It also removed infected individuals from the campus population and sent the message before day one of fall classes that Northern was taking COVID-19 very seriously.”
Surveillance testing helped to guide decision-making related to campus visitors, athletic team activities, recreation services and in-person student activities. The formerly vacant Spalding Hall was used as a quarantine and isolation facility for on-campus students, with a 150-bed capacity.
Erickson also explained the Safe on Campus online dashboard NMU created and updated daily during the fall semester. He said it offered robust information that was easy to digest and understand, and was used heavily by all campus groups, especially parents.
The dashboard provided statistics on current and cumulative positive COVID-19 cases, quarantine/isolation counts and on-campus testing results, along with Marquette County's weekly tallies and links to related resources. It received an A grade from the team at RateCovidDashboard.com, which reviewed 245 college and university sites nationwide.
Erickson said NMU plans to do another mass testing event from Jan. 4-18, prior to the start of classes on Jan. 19. Surveillance testing will increase in frequency from biweekly to weekly and the number of on-campus student volunteers in that group will double.
“We believe it's important to provide the opportunity for face-to-face classes this winter semester, as we did this fall, and testing will remain an important component of Northern's COVID-19 response.”