'Crisis:' MSU Covid precautions spread to mandatory quarantine of 23 Greek houses

September 14, 2020, 6:20 PM

The weird semester of fall 2020 just got even weirder for some MSU students. 

Twenty-three fraternities and sororities are under a two-week government quarantine order because of "known exposure to Covid 19." Seven group rental homes also are under Monday afternoon's mandatory restrictions from the Ingham County Health Department. 

Some Greek house residents have shown "a lack of cooperation and compliance" with mask-wearing, distancing and party size limits, the agency says. 

The action comes two days after it issued an "urgent" recommendation that students stay off the East Lansing campus for two weeks. (Our original post is below.)

Sparty mascot at a Greek life activity in 2014.
(Photo: MSU)

"There is an outbreak centered on Michigan State University and it is quickly becoming a crisis," county Health Officer Linda S. Vail says Monday. Ingham recorded a 52-percent increase in Covid cases since Aug. 24, she adds.

"The surge in cases we have seen over the past few weeks is alarming. I am disheartened to add that this outbreak is being fueled in part by a lack of cooperation and compliance from some MSU students, many residing in the properties now under mandatory quarantine.

"We must contain COVID-19 cases; however, within the MSU community we have been unable to do so with comprehensive contact tracing so other means of disease containment are necessary.”

Greek house members and other renters "must remain in their residence unless they need medical care or necessities that cannot be delivered," the county directive says. Outsiders can't visit "unless they are providing an essential service deemed necessary for the immediate health and safety of the residents."

MSU classes began Sept. 2, almost entirely online. Some students moved into off-campus apartments rented earlier, while other returned to fraternities and sororities.

Original article, Saturday:

MSU students in East Lansing get a heavy-duty warning Saturday from the local health department.

"This is an urgent situation," posts Ingham County Health Officer Linda S. Vail. "The exponential growth of Covid-19 cases must stop."

The recommendation is to stay off campus for two weeks to any possible extent:

At least 342 people affiliated with Michigan State University have tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) since Aug. 24. The health department strongly recommends all local MSU students self-quarantine immediately to contain the outbreak. ... 

This recommendation is not an emergency order; however, more stringent and mandatory restrictions will be imposed if students do not comply and break the transmission cycle. In the three weeks prior to the case surge, only 23 MSU-affiliated people tested positive.

Next steps, if needed, could include a ban on parties at Greek houses and perhaps temporary lodging limits there, the official indicated.

Vail links the spread to resumption of classes Sept. 2, even though most are conducted online. 

At least a third of new cases are people who recently attended parties or social gatherings, the health agency says.

The uptick in cases began as students returned to the East Lansing community for the fall semester. Although MSU classes are predominantly online, many students had binding off-campus leases or simply desired to physically return to the university community.

The government official explains why she urges isolation through Sept. 26:

I am concerned about the health and safety of the MSU community, and importantly, I am seriously concerned that unchecked transmission locally will affect the health and safety of all Ingham County residents. If we do not slow the spread immediately, we will be dealing with the consequences across the county for months to come.

Students in quarantine should remain at home for the next two weeks other than to attend in-person instruction, labs, and intercollegiate athletic training. They may also leave their homes to work or to obtain food, medicine, medical care, or supplies that are needed to sustain or protect life when such cannot be obtained via delivery.

Samuel L. Stanley: "We need to be careful." (Photo: MSU/Derrick L. Turner)

This weekend's guidance isn't from MSU, though its president also reminded students a few days ago of serious health risks. Samuel L. Stanley, a doctor who specialized in infectious diseases, posted "an open letter to Spartans" on Wednesday. An excerpt: 

This past week we have witnessed [a] spike among students, mostly due to student gatherings primarily off-campus.

  • It's part of our nature as Spartans, and students, to engage and celebrate. After all, it may have been months since you have seen your closest friends. This pandemic has taken an emotional toll by isolating us, and I understand it's going against most students' natural desire to be social.

But we need to be careful. Spartans cannot be passive observers to this trend in increasing cases. ...

Those who choose not to follow the university's and state and local guidelines may be subject to disciplinary action from the university.


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