EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University will no longer be notifying professors of all the COVID cases in their classrooms. Many professors aren't happy about it.
“I think we felt a little shocked, a little bit betrayed,” said associate professor and president of the MSU Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty Kate Birdsall.
Birdsall said the announcement was a slap in the face especially, after the bargaining they did in August.
“We put in to place at the very end of August a memorandum of understanding that allowed us to work with our department chairs to switch to online if we were notified that there was a case of COVID,” Birdsall said.
The MSU Provist's Office sent an email to every department chair saying they'll only notify professors of a classroom case if they're considered to have been in close contact with the student.
Birdsall said she's wondering how the university will determine that.
“The way that we teach is not necessarily standing behind a lectern on a stage and lecturing and especially for those of us in flipped classrooms. How MSU is going to determine close contact is a really good question.”
The email says "at this point in the semester, MSU's high vaccination rate, its mask mandate, MSU’s COVID-19 Triage Team’s contact tracing, and improvements in air filtering provide evidence that we are able to change course."
Birdsall isn't happy with the new approach.
“I am not just concerned about my own safety and the safety of our members, but for our students. For all of our loved ones who may be elderly or immunocompromised or unable to be vaccinated," she said. "The Delta variant is virulent and shutting down transparent communication right now, doesn’t seem like a good approach to me.”
MSU Spokesperson Dan Olsen said the university discontinued the general case notifications because they aren't recognized by public health officals and said Ingham County Health Office Linda Vail is on board with their decision.
Vail said sending out generic case notifications can create a false sense of security.
“We do public notifications over outbreaks not single cases," Vail said. "At this point in time, everybody really should expect that we have very sustained or high community transmission levels. So we all need to be taking these precautions all the time not just because we got a notification today about a positive in a classroom.”
Vail said they'll determine who was in close contact by contact tracing.
“Basically, that’s an interview with the case themselves to get information about where they were and how close they were to people, were they wearing masks or not in a classroom situation,” Vail said.
Olsen said research continues to demonstrate that in person teaching with appropriate precautions does not increase COVID-19 transmission and in person teaching is important to students learning and well-being.
According to the public dashboard, this week, the university has 22 reported cases.
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