Campus Update: Jan. 14, 2022

To the Eastern Michigan University community,

Welcome to 2022 and the first week of the winter semester. I understand our remote start to the semester is not what any of us had planned as 2021 concluded, but the volatility of COVID-19 again reared its dangerous head with a new variant and an explosion of new cases. As I have promised since the start of the pandemic, Eastern Michigan University is committed to moving rapidly to adjust our multi-layered safety protocols as events dictate. And this latest surge in cases – locally, statewide, and across the country – is certainly such an event. This is a key factor in our decision, announced earlier this week, to extend remote learning for an additional week through Jan. 23. New information emerges each day about this variant’s transmissibility and potential differences in symptoms and severity from past infections. We will keep monitoring and adapting to what’s learned. We will stay focused on the safety of our shared spaces and take necessary measures to ensure it through our policies and practices. Thank you to all for your support of these public health measures.

We have several items to cover in this week’s message:

  • COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
  • Swoop’s Food Pantry Update
  • Celebrating Eastern Michigan University Excellence
  • Health and Safety Reminder

COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts

  • Mandatory testing of non-vaccinated employees to begin: EMU's policy that all employees must be vaccinated or tested weekly remains in effect. This policy was outlined in detail last month. Yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that OSHA does not have authority to require employers to impose a policy of this nature does not impact EMU’s institutional policy The Court has allowed public employers such as EMU –separate from any action by OSHA– to enact policies just like ours. The University has consistently communicated that our Employee Vaccination/Screening Policy is the correct and balanced approach for our campus, and the policy will be implemented as planned.

    Mandatory weekly testing begins on Monday for regular employees who are not vaccinated and who have not reported their vaccination status to the University. The vast majority of University employees are vaccinated and have reported their vaccination status to the University, and are therefore not required to complete weekly testing. Those employees who are required to undergo weekly testing have been notified repeatedly via email. A new feature on the University’s COVID-19 Dashboard details the University’s overall employee vaccination rate, which currently is 88.2%. The data also show vaccination rates among the various full-time, regular employee groups.

  • COVID-19 testing: The COVID-19 Testing Center in the Student Center reopened after the winter break last Wednesday, Jan. 5. The one-day volume of tests provided on that day was our highest ever, at more than 400, and the remainder of the week and beginning of this week we continue to see a high number of tests conducted. As you would expect given the recent surge, we also are seeing a significantly higher than average number of positive cases. The number of tests conducted from Wednesday, Jan. 5 to Tuesday, Jan. 11, totals 1,649. Of those, 209 positive cases were identified for a weekly positivity rate of 12.67%. During this time, we reported a total of 369 positive cases, which includes information reported from students, faculty and staff who had external tests. This represents the University’s highest weekly positivity rate to date, and is consistent with the dramatic increase in case numbers and positivity rates we see in the surrounding community, state and nation. As noted above, these data are a factor in our decision to extend remote class formats through Jan. 23 and reinforces the rationale for the additional mandatory testing protocols in place.

    The Testing Center will be open today (Friday, Jan. 14) from 9 a.m. to noon, and tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 15, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The full schedule next week can be found on the Testing Center website. We welcome the increasing number of students, faculty and staff who are being tested regularly, as this is an important element of our mitigation strategy.

  • Evolving face mask guidance: In light of evolving Centers for Disease Control guidance, we are reviewing our face mask policy and will be recommending changes to our current protocols in the days ahead.

  • Residential students, vaccinations and testing requirements: Vaccinations continue to be required for students living in University housing. In addition, residential students must provide verification of a negative test following the winter break.

  • Vaccination clinic draws more than 600: Last Saturday’s (Jan. 8) vaccination clinic in the Student Center Ballroom resulted in more than 600 people receiving a first, second or third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 800 people attended, including parents bringing in children 12-15 years old for vaccinations. Leadership from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) was extremely complementary to the University and our team, led by Dean of Students Ellen Gold, who coordinated the effort alongside MDHHS staff. Given the large turnout, more clinics are planned in the future.

These items represent just a handful of the many initiatives in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among our campus community. We continue to closely monitor public health guidance, and meet with Washtenaw County Health Department experts regularly to evaluate, reassess and to consider adjustments to our protocols. The full range of policies, guidelines and safety protocols, for students, faculty and staff, can be found on the #EMUSafe website.

Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest orators in history shared these wise words, which also describe the passion and drive of our EMU community.

This morning kicks off our annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration – one of the most highly anticipated events of the year. Although the celebration will look a little different, a lot of planning went into making this year’s event a memorable one for students, faculty, and staff. I would like to extend my gratitude to the event committee who worked tirelessly to make this year’s celebration a success.

You can expect a variety of virtual activities including a celebration kick-off featuring performances by members of the EMU Forensics Team, Academic Programs Conference and a CloseUp Theatre Troupe performance and discussion among other highlights. 

Another special highlight is a Crowdfunding campaign, which will be held in place of the 35th Annual MLK President’s Luncheon to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The goal of the campaign is to raise $5,000 to purchase gift certificates from local Ypsilanti Black-owned businesses for distribution to patrons of Swoop’s Food Pantry.

I am thrilled to welcome our keynote speaker, Justin Hansford, a law professor at Howard University and executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center. On Monday, Jan. 17, Professor Hansford will lead a conversation on the First Amendment and how the ideas we learn from critical race theory help us understand how protest, pedagogy, and public debate around race have, and will continue to be, areas of critical importance where questions of justice are at stake. The presentation begins at 12:30 p.m. You can watch it live on the University’s YouTube channel or Facebook page.

I hope you will join me for a memorable experience you won’t forget. The full list of events, activities and how you can participate can be found on the celebration website. 

Swoops Food Pantry Update

As we begin the semester, the most needed items at the John and Angie Sabo Swoop’s Food Pantry Room are cereal, school supplies, pasta sauce, peanut butter and jelly. Details on how to use the pantry, hours of operation, how to donate groceries and supplies, and how to make a financial donation, can be found on the Swoops Food Pantry website.

Celebrating Eastern Michigan University Excellence

Please join me in celebrating these fine examples of Eastern excellence:

  • Interior design students from Eastern Michigan University were recently honored with the top three spots during the 14th annual National CET Student Awards, sponsored by the major Swedish software company, Configura. EMU has participated in the student rendering category of the National CET Student Awards for the past four years and this is the third consecutive year that all three top spots have been awarded to EMU interior design students. Jillian Sitkiewicz won first place, Kelsey Shields placed second and Olivia Grant took third. You can read more about the competition and student winners on EMU Today.

  • Honors College student and junior social work major Cheyanne Roy transformed a fully online semester last fall into an immersive international and community-based experience in Ashaiman, Ghana. Cheyanne worked with an international non-governmental organization (NGO) and an academy that provides educational services to 150 underprivileged students. In a discussion about the experience with EMU Today, she said, “Just seeing how little people have -- driving down the road and seeing kids play with tires instead of toys. It puts a lot of things into perspective and shows what we take for granted.” You can read more about Cheyanne’s study abroad experience on EMU Today.

  • Thanks to the work of Associate Professor of Social Work Christina Marsack- Topolewski, the University has a launched a new chapter of Lori’s Hands, a service-learning project in which students support older adults with chronic illnesses. Lori’s Hands originated at the University of Delaware and currently works with older adults in Newark and Baltimore. You can read more about Eastern’s Lori’s Hands chapter on EMU Today.

Health and Safety Reminder

Given the recent surge in positive cases of COVID-19, it’s important to reiterate some of the key safety protocols that each of us should follow:

  • Practice effective hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers;
  • Wear face coverings, particularly when indoors in public areas;
  • Observe physical distancing; and,
  • Get vaccinated (or boosted) if you are eligible.

These actions, when taken together, dramatically reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. And, vaccination minimizes the severity of cases in most situations, for those who do contract the virus.

As always, I thank you for your work on behalf of the University and your ongoing support of our #EMUSafe initiatives. Please continue to monitor your University email for future updates.

James Smith, Ph.D.