Sept. 10: Responding to positive COVID-19 tests in our campus community

Faculty, Academic Staff and Educators:

As we complete the second week of classes and as some continue the process of reacclimating to campus and being back in-person, we wanted to share some information about positive COVID-19 test results in our classrooms that have been taking place across campus. There are measures in place to help ensure the ongoing health and safety of all members of our community, and we would like to share some information about those protocols at this time.

During the past 18 months, MSU leadership has demonstrated a commitment to keeping our campus as safe as possible and taking the actions needed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. As these months passed, many employees continued to work full time on campus, many students lived in campus housing, medical staff treated patients and research continued. As we approached the fall semester, and with the emergence of the delta variant, vaccination and mask requirements became primary means of reducing COVID-19 transmission; helping protect our faculty, staff and students; avoiding hospitalizations; and more fully returning to living and learning on campus. The collaboration and commitment of faculty, students and staff have been truly exemplary.

While it is not possible to create a completely risk-free environment during the pandemic, our indoor masking and vaccination requirements for all faculty, staff and students substantially limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within classrooms and other academic settings. We also know that the currently available and safe COVID-19 vaccines significantly decrease the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death.

The high rate of vaccination among members of our campus community has been encouraging and is important to the well-being and academic pursuits of all. The masking requirement further protects those who are participating in classes, labs, studios and other in-person modalities from possible transmission. Everyone is being asked to redouble their efforts to wear face coverings in indoor settings and whenever in crowded spaces. 

As fall semester began, COVID-19 cases have been reported among our community. The MSU COVID-19 Triage Team has undertaken contact tracing for the 129 students who have tested positive since Aug. 2. Many of these cases were identified through MSU’s Early Detection Program. Instructors of impacted courses were notified of COVID-19 positive students by email. In addition, and following CDC guidance, COVID-19 positive students were instructed to self-isolate, and unvaccinated individuals meeting the CDC definition of “close contacts” were identified and instructed to quarantine.  

With few notable exceptions, the instructors and students in these classes did not meet the CDC’s definition of an unvaccinated close contact and therefore were not required to quarantine. In these cases, we informed faculty who had a student in their class who tested positive. We stressed the importance of continued masking and following other steps to protect the health of all. We know from our experience and that of other universities, classrooms are not typically the path of spread for COVID-19, particularly when masks are properly utilized. We believe that with these measures, classes should continue in person at this time. 

In general, students are asked to not come to class if they are experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19. It is incumbent on these students, as well as those self-isolating and quarantining, to reach out to their instructors to make accommodations so that they can continue their coursework during periods of illness, required self-isolation or quarantine. Faculty are asked to be especially empathetic to those who are unable to attend class for a time and to recognize the mental health challenges that students and colleagues may be experiencing.

As we go forward, we seek to continue to operate as an in-person university but to do so as safely as possible. We ask instructors and students in all in-person settings to be especially vigilant about mask-wearing and other safety measures. Anyone with a potential exposure is asked to exercise caution, monitor for symptoms and be tested 3-5 days following a known or likely exposure. 

For those instructors who themselves may fall ill, the unit and college will provide coverage for the class instruction and student learning. Our priority is always two-fold: to provide the highest quality instruction and learning experience for students and to support employees as they regain their health and return to work when they are healthy and able to resume responsibilities.

For instructors who may need to transition their class to remote for a brief period or longer-term, there are processes for addressing this shift based on the course’s learning outcomes and other factors. Instructors should discuss their mode of instruction with their relevant unit leadership to determine if a change in instructional modality ought to be made. Unit administrators are asked to make reasonable efforts to accommodate employees' requests when consistent with operational needs or whenever medically justified.

MSU continues to adhere to CDC recommendations and is consulting with the Ingham County Health Department to ensure we are following all contact tracing and isolation protocols. Importantly, we are committed to continuing to deliver as much content in person as can be done safely, recognizing the value this brings to the learner. And as stated, we do so confidently in the measures mentioned.

Any member of our campus community who is experiencing a significant degree of concern should reach out to their leadership or to one of our campus resources. We understand these are challenging times, and we thank all who are adhering to the safety protocols while continuing to deliver quality instruction to our students as they pursue valuable MSU degrees.

Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., President

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Norman J. Beauchamp Jr., M.D., Executive Vice President for Health Sciences

David Weismantel, M.D., University Physician