COVID-19 Update to Campus: Oct. 29, 2020

To the Eastern Michigan University community: 

I have to admit, I am nervous about the week ahead. Throughout the pandemic I have attempted to be forthright and direct about the challenges we face as an institution, and also as part of our larger community. My opening statement reflects that deep concern. Despite our excellent efforts to implement a variety of safety protocols, and the positive results we have seen thus far in mitigating the number of positive cases among our campus community, we are heading into a week that frankly holds more potential risks than normal for the spread of COVID-19.

The concerning factors confronting us are several:

  1. The rapid increase in positive COVID-19 cases in our surrounding community, state and nation.
  2. Halloween – typically a time when families interact with other families, and when students and others may be tempted to hold Halloween parties and gatherings.
  3. The resumption of more activities and events, such as the University of Michigan hosting Michigan State in football on Saturday, which is certain to trigger a desire for tailgating and crowds that are typically associated with that game in indoor establishments with little air flow, despite warnings not to do so. These warnings are reflected in Washtenaw County’s emergency stay-in-place order for U-M undergraduate students. You can find Eastern’s response to the order posted on our website.
  4. The election on Nov. 3 promises to bring massive numbers of voters out to the polls, judging by the record number of absentee ballots already submitted.
  5. The onset of colder weather – which will reduce the opportunity for families and friends to gather in a physically distanced outdoor setting, such as backyards and restaurants, where the fresh air mitigates the spread of COVID-19.

Each of these factors is a significant concern in its own right. Today, I joined Washtenaw County community leaders, including Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, U-M President Mark Schlissel, and others, in an open letter to the community calling for safe practices during this critical time period.

I am extremely confident in our campus community’s ability to continue the #EMUSafe initiatives that have kept our University’s case count significantly lower than many of our peer institutions in the state.

Our campus compliance to the mandatory wearing of face coverings, maintaining physical distance, frequent handwashing and use of sanitizer, among other safe practices, has been nothing short of extraordinary! Please thank your fellow students, faculty members and staff for their continued efforts to keep one another safe.

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

  • COVID-19 Dashboard
  • Ask for Help! Emotional and Mental Health Support Services Available to Students and Employees
  • December Commencement Update
  • Swoop’s Food Pantry Update/Thanksgiving Baskets
  • Celebrating Eastern Michigan University Excellence and Community Support

COVID-19 Dashboard 

I am pleased to report that we continue to see an overall low incidence of COVID-19 cases on our campus. In the seven days ending Oct. 27, the University administered 1,035 tests that resulted in two positive cases, for a positivity rate of 0.19 percent. We identified a total of 14 positive cases from all sources over the same time period. Of that total, eight were students who live off-campus and had no contact with campus prior to the time they tested positive; six 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 Aug. 12, the University has administered a total of 6,712 tests that resulted in 48 positive results for a positivity rate of 0.72 percent. 

I will repeat my previous point that the engagement and support from our students, faculty and staff with the University’s #EMUSafe efforts are critical factors in keeping our overall case numbers relatively low.

Ask for Help! Emotional and Mental Health Support Services Available to Students and Employees

These are unprecedented times of great stress and personal challenge. As we have communicated on several occasions during the course of the pandemic, it is important 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.

December Commencement Update

We congratulate our students who are nearing the completion of their degrees at Eastern Michigan University! We are proud of their accomplishments over the past few years and particularly during the last seven months, which have been extremely challenging. 

Unfortunately, the increased number of COVID-19 cases throughout Michigan and much of the nation poses a significant challenge to how we celebrate our graduating students. In light of government restrictions designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as well as our campus commitment to safety, the University will not be able to host an in-person Commencement ceremony in December. This is disappointing news for me and for the rest of the Eastern community; celebrating our graduates in the Convocation Center is one of my favorite events of the year. This decision, however, is the correct choice.

We are planning several activities to celebrate our graduating students and are communicating directly with students who have applied to graduate. Students who have not applied to graduate in December but will complete all degree requirements during the semester should visit their my.emich account, choose the “Student” tab, choose the “Student Records” link, and then the “Apply to Graduate” link. The deadline to apply for December 2020 graduation is December 18, 2020.

We are determined to make this a meaningful, joyous celebration for our graduates and will continue to update the campus as our planning continues.

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 cereal, large packages of snacks, dish soap, sugar and large containers of juice.

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 has had a great initial response to its sixth annual Thanksgiving Basket drive! The goal is to provide 50 Thanksgiving Baskets to students. Individuals who wish to donate items can visit Swoop’s Food Pantry Thanksgiving Baskets 2020.

Celebrating Eastern Michigan University Excellence and Community Support 

I am pleased to share information that reflects the University’s excellence and commitment to supporting our community, and offer my congratulations to all involved:

  • Beverly Mihalko, an Eastern Michigan University associate professor of health sciences and an epidemiologist, has received considerable media coverage in recent weeks for her safety recommendations for those who choose to vote in person on Nov. 3. Dr. Mihalko was featured in Everyday Health, on WEMU, and in EMU Today. Her tips range from encouraging in-person voters to be antisocial, and to being prepared by carrying some extra supplies. You can read the full range of her suggestions in the links above. It is timely advice indeed! 

  • Oksana Aliyev, an EMU alumna, has been selected as a Canadian delegate of the coveted G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance (YEA) and to participate in the G20 YEA summit scheduled today and Friday. G20 YEA is a network of young entrepreneurs and supporting organizations that meets each year in advance of the G20 Leaders’ Summit. She graduated from Eastern in 2017 with a master’s degree in Polymers and Coatings Technology. Currently, she is Chief Development Officer at AV Coatings Ltd, Canada where she develops a line of environmentally-friendly coatings and paints.

  • Campus Life and the EMU Department of Public Safety are teaming up to host a safe Halloween drive-thru trick-or-treat and drive-in movie experience tomorrow (Friday) night. The events, which are free, are open to students, faculty, staff and the greater community. The fun begins at 5:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Convocation Center. Details can be found on EMU Today

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.