What to know about navigating an in-person fall amid COVID-19

August 30, 2021

As tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff kick off a new in-person academic year on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, a number of university COVID-19 response efforts, policies and community expectations are in place for a productive and healthy fall term.

Here are the top things to know for the fall 2021 term:

  • The U-M campus community is highly vaccinated. As of Aug. 25, 91 percent of students, 88 percent of faculty and 73 percent of staff on the Ann Arbor campus were fully vaccinated. Additionally, 77 percent of Michigan Medicine employees were fully vaccinated.
  • Many employees continue to work on campus in person. Others will return with the start of the fall term and still more are developing in-person work plans that are being managed at the unit level.
  • Face coverings are currently required indoors in most settings on campus regardless of one’s vaccination status.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are required, with limited exemptions, for all students, faculty and staff.
  • All members of the U-M community coming to campus are required to use ResponsiBLUE, the daily symptom checker.
  • Testing for asymptomatic COVID-19 remains available through the Community Tracking and Sampling Program for those who want it or who are required to test weekly.
  • People should stay home if they are sick. This helps reduce the likelihood of spreading a range of infections including COVID, influenza and other illnesses.

Return to in-person work

Many units are resuming more in-person work based on their specific needs while other units are reducing campus density through hybrid work plans. Employees should continue to look to unit leadership for the latest information on their specific return to work plans and timelines.

Those who have concerns about returning to work should speak with their supervisors.

Face coverings required indoors

Under the latest U-M face-covering policy, all students, staff, faculty and visitors must wear a face covering that covers their mouth and nose while indoors and on U-M transportation, regardless of vaccination status.

The university policy cites limited exceptions in which a person is not required to wear a face covering indoors, including while alone in a single, enclosed, private office with the door closed; while actively eating or drinking; or while receiving a health care service that requires them to temporarily take off their face covering.

A key exception to the policy allows for vaccinated students living on campus to not wear a face covering while in their own residence hall, including common areas.

COVID-19 vaccine required

All students, faculty and staff are required to submit proof of their COVID-19 vaccination or request an exemption by Aug. 30 under the U-M COVID-19 Vaccination Policy.

Vaccines are available through Michigan Medicine, University Health Service and Occupational Health Services.

On Aug. 23, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 16 and older.  University officials said they hoped this action will further motivate unvaccinated individuals in the U-M community who had been hesitant to get vaccinated to now get vaccinated.

Advisers are available to speak with individuals with questions about the vaccine’s safety and the role of vaccination in personal and community health.

While breakthrough infections — positive tests among those vaccinated — occur with every vaccine, health officials say vaccines reduce the risk of infection and greatly reduce the likelihood of severe illness, even with the current delta variant.

The university is providing limited exemptions to its COVID-19 Vaccination Policy for medical or religious reasons. Responses to those who requested an exemption are being sent this week and on an ongoing basis as exemptions are reviewed.

Policy compliance

Employees and students who do not report their vaccination information or obtain an exemption as required under the university’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy will be subject to a number of interventions and administrative actions.

All individuals who are not fully vaccinated by Aug. 30 will be required to get tested weekly for COVID-19 until they are fully vaccinated.

Beginning Aug. 30, non-compliant employees will be subject to disciplinary action, which will be carried out using a two-step process at the unit level. The first step will focus on further education about the policy and the vaccine, and will include a verbal warning. Michigan Medicine is following a separate process.

Supervisors can check ResponsiBLUE screens for compliance with the vaccination mandate. Reports will be made available after Aug. 27 for unit leadership to follow up with any employee out of compliance.

Additional details are available online at myumi.ch/QAd4E.

COVID-19 testing

Testing for asymptomatic COVID-19 remains available through the Community Tracking and Sampling Program for those who want it or are required to test weekly.

Weekly testing is required for individuals who have received a medical or religious exemption under the vaccine policy, as well as for those who have started their vaccination series but are not yet considered fully vaccinated.

The weekly testing requirement will be waived for those individuals who received an exemption and who are in fully remote situations, but it is expected that those individuals be tested within the previous week if they come to campus for any reason. ResponsiBLUE will track compliance with weekly testing for all students and employees granted vaccine exemptions, even those usually in a fully remote arrangement.

Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or a close-contact exposure should contact Occupational Health Services for faculty and staff, or University Health Service for students.

Guidance for facilities and events

U-M’s Environment, Health and Safety has updated its guidelines to minimize risks in campus operations, including distancing, cleaning protocols and events.

Currently, there is no physical distancing requirement in U-M facilities. Unvaccinated individuals should continue to practice 6 feet of distancing from others in addition to wearing a face covering.

Units are no longer under capacity restrictions for in-person events. Units should continue to request approval of events through their leadership and should strive to plan events utilizing best infectioncontrol practices for minimizing the potential for spread of COVID-19. Those include choosing smaller gatherings over larger gatherings; using ResponsiBLUE for indoor events to indicate compliance with testing, and screening requirements; and keeping a log of names and contact information (if feasible) for attendees if case investigation and contact tracing becomes necessary.


This article originally appeared in the August 25, 2021 edition of The University Record