COVID-19 Update to Campus: Oct. 15, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community:

The University continues to actively and aggressively track any COVID-19 cases among our campus community and offer support to any individuals who are affected. The efforts taken thus far have proven successful in keeping the numbers of positive cases among our community to a relatively low level, especially in comparison to many of our peer institutions. This is testament to the great support, cooperation and collaboration shown by our students, faculty and staff to follow safe behaviors and practices.

The wearing of face coverings is the primary safe practice members of our community can take. We continue to see strong compliance to our mandatory requirement for wearing face coverings throughout campus, inside buildings or outdoors. (Face coverings may be removed when working alone in an office with the door closed or in a residence hall room.) Thank you for continuing this critical practice.

Maintaining physical distance from those around you, when indoors and out, frequent hand washing and using the many hand sanitizer stations located around campus are other key factors in our keeping our community #EMUSafe. It is particularly essential in an environment in which we are seeing increasing numbers of cases in Michigan and across the nation. Today, Michigan reported a record 2,030 new cases -- the largest number of new cases in the state in one day.

I am proud of the University’s innovative and systemized processes, with leadership from the public health professionals among our faculty and staff, to protect the health, safety and well-being of our community. We have stated from the outset that this is an institutional priority and we remain vigilant in our efforts to continue to learn, evolve our practices as necessary, and implement additional safety protocols.

I know it is a cliché to say that “it takes a village.” But it indeed does. And I am truly thankful and appreciative of everyone who is contributing their knowledge, skills, understanding and perseverance to our many safety actions.

I have several items to cover in this week’s update:

  • COVID-19 Dashboard
  • Wastewater Testing Update
  • Emotional and Mental Health Support Services Available to Students and Employees
  • COVID-19-related Temporary Leave of Absence Information for Employees
  • Virtual Speaker Series: Race, Policing and Social Justice in 2020 (part three)
  • Deadline for Online Voter Registration for Nov. 3 Election
  • Rep. Ronnie Peterson to Host Virtual Community Conversation
  • Swoop’s Food Pantry Update/Thanksgiving Baskets
  • Celebrating Eastern Michigan University Excellence

-19 Dashboard

In the seven days ending Oct. 13, the University administered 835 tests that resulted in five positive results. We identified a total of 21 positive cases from all sources over the same time period. Of that total, six were students who live off-campus and had no contact with campus prior to the time they tested positive; 15 were on-campus students – defined as a student who was living on campus or had visited campus during the applicable time period prior to the time they tested positive. No cases were reported among University employees.

Since August 12, the University has administered 4,836 tests that resulted in 46 positive results for a positivity rate of 0.95 percent.

This data can be found on the University’s COVID-19 Dashboard. In order to increase the timeliness of this important data, the dashboard is now being updated at least two times each week. These updates occur late in the afternoon/early evening on Mondays and Wednesdays, dependent on when the testing results are returned to us and processed.

As noted previously, the University has expanded our testing processes to more effectively monitor the campus environment. As is noted above, 835 tests were conducted over the past week. The preceding week we conducted 357 tests, and the week prior to that 115 tests took place. This expanded effort is consistent with our late August announcement to delay residence hall move-in and begin the semester in a fully virtual/online format in order to develop a more robust testing process. As our testing program continues, individuals who are subject to such testing will be notified directly, with appropriate details. Please continue to monitor University email for these important communications.

As a reminder, the Washtenaw County Health Department, with University support and assistance, conducts contact tracing on positive cases related to on-campus activities. Any Eastern community members who are deemed to have had close contact with someone on campus who tested positive are notified directly and provided information about what they should do. 

It is the responsibility of every EMU student and employee to submit the COVID-19 Report Form should you become aware of a case or test positive yourself, so that we may follow up and mitigate future spread of the virus. This form should be utilized by anyone who meets one of the following criteria:

  • You are known to have COVID-19 by medical diagnosis or by testing positive - even if you are not showing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You have been informed that you were in close contact with another person who was medically diagnosed or tested positive for COVID-19.
  • You have any of the following symptoms of COVID-19: fever/chills, cough shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle/body aches, headache, new loss of taste/smell, sore throat, congestion/runny nose, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea.
  • You have learned that an EMU Community member (student, faculty, staff, employee) has tested positive for COVID-19 or has been medically diagnosed with COVID-19.

 Testing Update

As initially announced on Sept. 17, the University is engaged in an innovative process to test campus wastewater for biomarkers of the COVID-19 virus. Wastewater surveillance is a fast-evolving science and is providing an additional layer of information in the University’s ongoing monitoring and response processes. Twice a week the University is provided data that are gathered and analyzed from several sewage drains in which specialized equipment has been installed to monitor wastewater samples. Our wastewater testing process is targeted to the monitoring of residence halls due to the amount of time and depth of interaction students who live on campus have with fellow students and others across campus.

The data gathered in wastewater testing do not identify individual cases but does provide information as to the possible presence of the virus in the monitored areas. The University then uses this information to identify and determine the need for individual testing of populations where the process informs us additional cases may be present.

I’d like to thank the members of the wastewater work group for their ongoing efforts, and particularly the support and guidance provided by Dr. Chris Gellasch, associate professor of Hydrogeology, Hydrology and Environmental Science. Dr. Gellasch is a geologist with a focus on groundwater and water quality. He served previously as a U.S. Army Environmental Science and Engineering Officer, and received his undergraduate degree right here at Eastern Michigan University.

Emotional and Mental Health Support Services Available to Students and Employees

The challenges over the last eight months have been significant. Our academic processes, whether learning or teaching, have changed dramatically with the expansion of virtual/online classes. Our daily routines have been altered – many are studying or working from home or other remote locations. And, our personal lives have been impacted – in some cases due to positive cases of COVID-19 among family members or friends, as well as by adjustments in how we live, shop and entertain. It is important during these times that we remind one another of some of the supportive resources the University offers.

  • For students: Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of Eastern Michigan University students. CAPS offers free and confidential counseling by calling 734-487-1118 during business hours and after-hours in the evenings and weekends. For additional information, visit the CAPS website or contact the office by email at

  • For employees: The University’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available for expert advice and support. EAP provides free, confidential help with personal and work-related issues, 24/7. The EAP is available to employees and their family members. Information and contact information about the EAP and can be found at the EMU Employee Assistance Program webpage.

COVID-19-related Temporary Leave of Absence Information for Employees

Eastern has implemented several programs allowing temporary leaves of absence for employees whose families are affected by the COVID-19 virus. Experiencing the COVID-19 disease can affect every aspect of an employee’s life, whether the employee themselves or a family member is affected. The process for qualifying for, applying for, and taking, COVID-19-related leave should be as simple as we can make it. To help, our Human Resources department has developed a detailed guide on the various options available should employees need information related to a COVID-19 leave of absence. The information can be found on the Human Resources COVID-19-related Temporary Leave of Absence webpage. Please take a minute to review this important information. If you have additional questions about how to take COVID-19-related leave, please reach out to HR Benefits at

Virtual Speaker Series: Race, Policing and Social Justice in 2020 (part three)

A week from tonight, on Thursday, Oct. 22, the College of Arts and Sciences will host the third and final presentation in its virtual speaker series: Race, Police and Social Justice in 2020. The session takes place from 6:30 - 8 p.m., and is titled “A Conversation on Race, Policing, Voting and Social Justice: Where Do We Go From Here?”

Panelists are Derrick Jackson, Director of Community Engagement, Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office; Erica Hillard, Assistant United States Attorney, Northern District of Texas; Dr. Kevin Karpiak, Associate Professor of Criminology, Eastern Michigan University; and, Dr. David Klein, Professor of Political Science, Eastern Michigan University.

The series was developed to examine the systems of policing, including socioeconomic and political challenges. It is intended to generate sustainable relationships among local law enforcement and the EMU community, in order to create systemic support and cultivate collaborations.

Registration information can be found on the event homepage. You can also contact Dr. Barbara Patrick at or Dr. Stephen Jefferson at

Once again, please join me in thanking our outstanding faculty for creating this important platform for ongoing dialogue, learning and examination of these critical issues. 

Deadline for Online Voter Registration for Nov. 3 Election

The election is drawing near and the online voter registration deadline in Michigan is next Monday, Oct.19. Please take three minutes right now to make sure that your voter registration status is up-to-date so you are ready to vote in the November 3 election. Visit to register for the first time or to update your registration status if you have moved. Once you go to this website, you will also find commonly asked questions about voting in the election. To get more involved in registering other young adults, sign up here. You can also stay up to date on Eastern's voter-related actions at the Voting at EMU website.

Rep. Ronnie Peterson to Host Virtual Community Conversation

I am honored to participate in State Rep. Ronnie Peterson’s Virtual Community Conversation next week. The event takes place via Zoom from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 20. My emphasis will be targeted toward University-community engagement activities. More information can be found on Rep. Peterson’s Facebook page. 

Swoop’s Food Pantry Update/Thanksgiving Baskets

The fall hours for the John and Angie Sabo Swoop’s Food Pantry Room are Mondays and Thursdays from 12 - 5 p.m., and Wednesdays from 12 - 6:30 p.m.

Shoppers are requested to complete an Online Shopping Request Form before arriving. Items will be bagged by staff and brought out to clients when they arrive. Visitors to Swoop’s can enter through the main entrance on the north side of Pierce Hall near the elevator. Swoop’s requires any student who has not used the pantry this year to complete the new 2020-21 Swoop's Food Pantry Intake Form.

If you wish to donate items – those most needed are large snack items, grape jelly, salad dressing, hand soap and ketchup.

Please email in advance to make sure someone is present to handle your delivery.

Please maintain physical distancing guidance when picking up or delivering items to the Pantry.

Swoop's also is providing 50 Thanksgiving baskets to students for the sixth year. Individuals who want to donate items can sign up on the Swoop's 2020 Thanksgiving Baskets webpage.

Celebrating Eastern Michigan University excellence

I am proud to share several items reflecting University excellence in this week’s message:

  • Professors Joseph Breza and Thomas Mast collaborated with their students in looking for ways to mimic the taste of salt in the foods we love, with the ultimate goal of helping eliminate the negative health consequences of sodium in the diet. Their research was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, with a grant of nearly $430,000.

  • Professor Kristine Ajrouch was interviewed on the ABC News Nightline program for the segment “Facing racism: Activists in Arkansas chase down KKK leader with BBQ and a protest.” The program noted Dr. Ajrouch’s recent research that measured the ethnicity of peoples’ social networks.

  • Emeritus Professor and Part-Time Lecturer Betty Beard, former director of the School of Nursing, is making her expertise available as a COVID-19 volunteer contact tracer with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Beard is volunteering in this capacity nearly every day – for one to five hours – since the need is so great. She estimates she has made at least 900-1,000 calls and has talked with people living in nearly every area of both peninsulas of Michigan.

Congratulations to the many fine people who provided their expertise and skills in the above-listed accomplishments. It is truly a reflection of the outstanding individuals who drive the success of Eastern Michigan University.

Health and safety reminder

As I do each week, I will conclude with an important health and safety reminder. Please continue to:

  • Practice effective hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers;
  • Wear face coverings; and,
  • Observe physical distancing.

These three actions, when taken together, dramatically reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Please continue to follow the University’s COVID-19 Planning and Preparedness website for ongoing updates.

James Smith, Ph.D.