As Coronavirus Hits Michigan, MSU Moving Classes Online; ELPS Staying the Course So Far

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020, 9:59 am
Alice Dreger

Today, as the first confirmed cases of coronavirus have hit the state and Governor Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency, Michigan State University is moving classes online and encouraging students to go home to their permanent residences for the time being.

MSU's President Samuel L. Stanley, a physician, announced moments ago a "probable case linked to our campus."

In a communication to the MSU community, Stanley wrote, "Effective today at noon, MSU is suspending face-to-face instruction in lectures, seminars, and classroom settings and moving coursework to virtual instruction" through at least April 20.

The emergency shift from in-person to online learning will affect all MSU students except those doing clinical training.

Universities around the nation have begun taking this approach in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19. Some universities have required students to leave campus, but MSU will not take that step at this time.

Studies are showing that the COVID-19 hits hardest older people and also individuals with some underlying medical conditions. The mortality rate is difficult to determine because of the unknowns but has been estimated by the World Health Organization at about 3 percent, skewing hard toward the elderly.

Some infected people show few symptoms, making it challenging to detect who is infected without widespread testing, which is not currently available. Reducing how many people come into contact with each other is a relatively effective strategy for slowing down transmission of a communicable disease like this one. This is called "social distancing."

MSU’s emergency decision can be expected to affect the culture and economy of East Lansing as the first signs of spring come. Ordinarily the warmer weather, St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) and the NCAA basketball tournament result in many local college students gathering for indoor and outdoor parties. But this year will be very different as significant concerns about the virus set in.

Meanwhile, East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko sent out a letter yesterday saying “the district continues to intensify cleaning procedures throughout the buildings to prevent and limit the spread of the virus.”

Leyko let families known “district administrators and staff will support any and all decisions made by families in regards to the attendance of their children during this time. Please just communicate your plans to your school office.” She encouraged families to keep sick children home and noted “we also have a responsibility to the greater local community and those who may be at higher risk of severe complications with exposure to the virus.”

As of yesterday, ELPS was “not preparing for online instruction” in part because of concerns about economic disparities: poorer families may have a harder time accessing online education.

Leyko says her “concerns include factors related to technology and/or internet accessibility as well as content accessibility for English learners, students with [disabilities] and other students who rely on staff support to access curriculum in school. These opportunity gaps widen when students are not in school to learn.”

She said the district will be taking guidance from the state Department of Education. (See the letter here.)

The City of East Lansing has indicated it is “monitoring” the situation. At City Hall last night where several hundred students were lined up for up to three hours while they registered to vote and cast ballots, hand sanitizer dispensers were found in much greater numbers than a few weeks ago.

The Burcham Hills senior housing and nursing complex is a polling station for East Lansing and took the unusual step yesterday of making sure that people arriving to vote came and went via an atypical route that kept them from walking through areas used by the resident population of Burcham Hills.

Nursing homes in the East Lansing area are taking extra precautions with the understanding that it is older adults, particularly those with significant medical conditions, who remain at the highest risk of death from the disease.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi's mailer to stay informed.


Photo by Raymond Holt. Note: This story was updated after we received President Stanley's communication.



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