Faculty News

Collaboration and Innovation Empower U-M’s Agile COVID-19 Strategy

One of the components of the University of Michigan’s public health-informed semester strategy is administering reliable on-campus COVID-19 testing for U-M students, faculty, and staff who are exhibiting symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who tested positive. Results from tests administered by University Health Service are immediately integrated into information shared with other units, which allows for prompt communication and quick transitions into isolation or quarantine when needed. Testing paired with prompt case investigation and contact tracing is critical for preventing the further spread of COVID-19 in the U-M community.

This process was developed by campus public health and medical experts, in partnership with U-M administrators, and informed by the Washtenaw County Health Department. These campus and local public health officials continuously track test results and monitor for potential cases to quickly adapt the plans as needed to maintain a culture of care in the U-M community for the fall semester and beyond.University Health System covid test

“When tested at UHS, we can instantaneously connect those results to campus partners so that we can get people safely into isolation and quarantine, and create situational awareness for the campus,” said Lindsey Mortenson, UHS Acting Executive Director and Adjunct Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry at the U-M Medical School.

Currently, the university is seeing an increase of students being tested at off-campus testing facilities which creates a delay in the positive test result being shared with the university and prompting the university’s response for offering resources or issuing community public health notifications.

The university is also identifying other ways to test and monitor for potential cases on campus, including through the COVID-19 Community Sampling and Tracking Program, an opt-in, voluntary program that actively monitors levels of COVID-19 in the U-M community. The program has tested more than 3,000 asymptomatic individuals since it launched Sept. 6.

Emily Martin, associate professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, says one of the biggest benefits of doing community sample testing is gaining a systematic picture of the disease within the community.

“One of the most important pieces of this is that we want to find out how the virus is impacting all of our community, not just those parts of our community that will typically come in for testing or have really good access to care,” Martin said.

Another recent intervention by public health and medical officials on campus is to rapidly create “pop-up” sites organized by UHS. Originating from a need to test students on two specific floors of the South Quad residence hall (which had been identified as the primary location of a cluster), these “pop-up” sites are now an ongoing component of U-M’s robust health and safety response strategy.

“This was something we have not done before, and we really wanted to bring the testing to the students rather than have them leave the dorm to come to UHS or our satellite location,” said Mortenson.

University Health System staff answering phone

Since South Quad, UHS and partners have conducted two more pop-up testing sites—Alice Lloyd and Mosher Jordan—to bring testing to the Michigan Housing residence halls where clusters are present.

Because the U-M testing is quickly shared, it allows for U-M’s Environment, Health & Safety office to promptly respond to positive cases and begin case investigations and contact tracing. Those with a positive test will need to isolate for 10 days from their positive test result. The university relies on contact tracing as a mitigation measure to help identify close contacts who may be infected and instruct them to quarantine for 14 days.

“Contact tracing is an important public health function because it helps contain the spread of disease. We want to identify and reach close contacts as early in their exposure as we can,” said Angela Beck, associate dean for student engagement and practice and clinical assistant professor at the U-M School of Public Health.

Through the contact tracing process, those identified as close contacts will be expected to quarantine, regardless of a negative test result, to ensure they don’t develop symptoms or unknowingly spread the virus to others.

“If you have a positive test, it’s essential that you cooperate with case investigation and contact tracing,” said Preeti Malani, chief health officer, U-M.

“Please answer your phone, and be honest. The health of our community depends on this.”

U-M shares updates on its testing and positive cases through the COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated daily. Starting September 23, cases reported for members of the U-M community at external testing facilities (such as urgent care facilities) were also added to the dashboard and will continue to be updated as data becomes available.

“Given that there is a longer turnaround for external sites in providing testing data to U-M, it may appear as though there have been jumps in cases on previous dates. However, these updates ensure the dashboard shows the most current and complete data, as dashboards are living, breathing documents,” according to Marisa Eisenberg, associate professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, who has worked on the state of Michigan dashboard, mistartmap.info.

The University of Michigan recently published a set of campus response metrics and mitigation measures from the Campus Health Response Committee to detail the factors used when considering strategies regarding campus operations during the pandemic.University Health System staff in lab testing

The document is a way to formalize the data and put it in one place to share broadly, says Malani.

“We have been using this type of data all along to help guide the university’s response. Whenever possible, potential responses to increases of COVID-19 transmission will be targeted toward the source of the increase,” she added.

Eisenberg explained that if things are going well, it’s easy to describe, but if there are a lot of different elements it becomes more difficult to say that a specific thing will lead to a specific action, and a more tailored approach may be needed.

“We’ve found what is informative and what seems to be predictive of different outcomes, and all of that comes together to give you a set of indicators that are as informative as you can make it to understand risk in our communities,” Eisenberg said.”

Keeping the entire U-M community safe and healthy is everyone’s top priority. Through diligent mitigation strategies, reliable testing, and continuous potential case monitoring, all members of the campus community can effectively contribute to slowing the spread of the virus.

Learn more at campusblueprint.umich.edu

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