'A little confused:' MSU Covid count is way off, county health official says

September 23, 2020, 10:01 AM

Students on campus last week. (Photos: Lisa Mulcrone/MSU)

Ingham County's health officer speaks pointedly about a gap between MSU's count of Covid cases and her agency's much larger number.

The university’s dashboard lists 548 known Covid cases since July 27, while county official Linda Vail puts the total at 1,250 cases since Aug. 24. "The university is a little confused," she says, according to Michigan Radio.

"We are the public health system. We do contact tracing. We do investigations. We are talking to students on the phone that say, 'I'm an MSU student. I'm an MSU student. I'm an MSU student...'

"I feel very confident in these numbers. ... I'm trying to help them."

She has given privacy-protected county case data to the university repeatedly, Vail said during a virtual news conference Tuesday. Her office considers coronavirus diagnoses MSU-related if they are students, faculty or staff.

MSU Union displays a sign of the times.

Dan Olsen, a MSU spokesman, tells Michigan Radio: "if numbers are shared with the university but we don't have names associated with that, it's harder to identify whether that number is attached to a student."

The county health officer, who heard that position earlier, voiced frustration during Tuesday's briefing:

"I'm telling you that they're students. Because when my case investigators talk to them, they tell us.

"And quite honestly, if you look at the age range and the addresses, it's the right age range and it's the typical student housing places."

If MSU’s opening football game against Rutgers University were this weekend instead of Oct. 24, Vail said she'd advise cancelling it.

Vail issued a mandatory quarantine order Sept. 14 against 30 group residences in East Lansing, including Greek houses at MSU. Another 11 sites were added Sept. 17. 

Michigan State shut dormitories and moved nearly all courses online in August. But an estimated 38,000 students live off-campus, and many signed leases for 2020-21 semesters before the pandemic hit in March.

Campus statue of John Hannah, university president from 1941-69, is masked up.

Read more:  Michigan Radio

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