We’re certainly not out of the woods, and now is definitely not the time to be easing up on mask wearing and social distancing, but news about the pandemic over the past few weeks is inspiring justifiable optimism about the future. Nationwide, case rates continue to decline, even faster than some experts expected. Vaccination rates are steadily increasing. And in Michigan, the positivity rate — a key metric for measuring the severity of the pandemic — has fallen below 3 percent for the first time since summer. So what does all this mean for the prospects for returning to campus? Recently, leaders shared some of the latest details about that during a virtual town hall event. We’ve summarized some of the major takeaways below, in case you missed it.
What to expect for the rest of winter semester
The winter semester plan called for an all-remote start to the term, with some classes like labs returning to in-person instruction in March. The idea behind that strategy was that January could be a peak month for the pandemic, but conditions might improve as we moved closer to spring. Thankfully, that’s exactly the scenario that’s playing out now. Wayne County’s positivity rate is just a little above the state average of 3 percent, which means UM-Dearborn’s plan for the rest of the semester can proceed on schedule. Starting March 1, classes previously designated for in-person instruction, which includes things like labs and senior design, will be delivered on campus. A few student success programs, namely, the Math Learning Center and Supplemental Instruction, will also return to limited in-person delivery. Finals will be held April 22-28, with faculty teaching on-campus classes having the option to conduct exams in person and the rest of exams being conducted remotely. For the majority of faculty and staff, the routine for the rest of the semester will remain unchanged: Those who can work remotely should continue to do so, and anyone visiting campus has to follow the established safety protocols. As for spring commencement, plans will be announced in early March. For more details, check out this campus communication.
Some good news for athletics
Unlike with academics, there really isn’t an online option to replace in-person athletic events, and just last Wednesday, it appeared that a return to competition this semester wasn’t in the cards. The main reason: Other athletic teams in our conference couldn’t guarantee that their athletes would follow our required health and safety protocols, which include basic things like mask wearing and testing. On Thursday, however, we learned that teams in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) were committed to following a testing protocol and mask wearing that satisfied university leadership and U-M’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Preeti Malani. That means student-athletes will be able to resume competition this spring, beginning with restarting practice as early as March 1. You can find more details here.
What summer and fall might look like
So does all this good news mean we can expect more on-campus activities soon? That’s the big question, and of course, no one has a definitive answer yet. But the university is making an important scheduling tweak that leaves us some wiggle room to plan for more on-campus classes and activities in the fall — should conditions allow. UM-Dearborn has traditionally done scheduling and registration for both summer and fall terms in March. This year, we’ll release the schedule for the mostly remote summer term in mid-March, with registration beginning a few weeks later. But we’ll make a decision about the format of the fall semester and release the fall class schedule by early May. This will allow leaders a few extra months to see if trendlines are improving enough to allow for a safe return to campus — and if so, to what extent. It’s important to remember, however, it’s not totally UM-Dearborn’s call. CDC guidelines around social distancing, for example, would have to be amended to allow for a significantly increased density on campus.
Some news about vaccines
We hope you’ve used the BlueQueque questionnaire to sign-up to receive a vaccine from Michigan Medicine, and if you haven’t yet, it’s still recommended. But Director of Emergency Management Laura Drabczyk explained that some changes in the vaccine rollout are impacting Michigan Medicine’s vaccine supply. In the early weeks of the rollout, medical systems were getting a lot of vaccine. Now the supply has shifted in favor of health departments and pharmacies. So Drabczyk’s advice: Get on the list with your public health department and local pharmacy as well, so you can get a vaccine as soon as possible.
How a post-COVID campus might be different
So when we do go back, will things at UM-Dearborn be the same as before? It’s a really hot topic with faculty and staff right now, and there’s a lot of interest in making improvements based on all the things we’ve learned during the pandemic. While there aren’t any definitive plans to announce at the moment, Human Resources Director Rima Berry-Hung mentioned leadership is planning to do a job assessment to help campus units assess which positions might be done remotely or in a hybrid format in the future. And Provost Sue Alcock says there is strong interest in hybrid, flipped and other creative course formats that allow faculty to implement some of the new skills they’ve developed. Plus, remember, UM-Dearborn is right in the middle of its strategic planning effort. So it’s a great time to be thinking and talking about how we can do things differently.
Want to watch the full February 19 town hall event? You can view it here. Or, if you're interested in hearing more about the university's budget picture, join leadership for a Virtual Budget Town Hall on Tuesday, March 2 at 1 p.m. Register here.