Aug. 28: Setting expectations for our fall semester

Dear Spartans,

This pandemic has tested our resolve. From its onset, it has been unpredictable and continues to remind us that we are on its timeline, not ours. But as Spartans, our will carries on. We are determined, more than ever, to face these challenging and uncertain times with true Spartan grit. And we will continue supporting each other and doing what is best for the health and safety of all.

My decision last week to pivot to primarily remote learning and have most of our students continue their education from home was not an easy one, and it weighs heavily on me — just as each important decision that we have made along this journey has. But I know that this transition was for the best.

Our fall semester will be different in many ways. It will be challenging. But I know that together, we can and will succeed. As we look ahead toward the beginning of a new academic year, there are important decisions that remain in place that you should be aware of.

Off-campus outdoor gatherings
Last week, the Ingham County Health Department shared a new emergency order that reduces the number of people allowed in outdoor gatherings to 25. I expect all of our students and employees to be following that order. Partnership is key to reducing the spread of COVID-19, and MSU is united with the greater East Lansing community in the spirit of protecting one another. View a map of the restricted area here. 

City of East Lansing expectations
Our top priority this fall remains the safety and well-being of our Spartan community — on our campuses and in our surrounding off-campus neighborhoods. That is why it is heartening to see that MSU’s on-campus expectations are becoming more common within our neighboring communities. Recently, the city of East Lansing adopted a mask policy similar to MSU’s requirement — all residents and visitors are now required to wear face coverings both indoors and outdoors in all public spaces in the Downtown Development Authority District. The lines that once divided campus from our neighbors are becoming less so in the spirit of protecting one another.

Student compliance with COVID-19 directives and local ordinances
While having fewer people on campus certainly keeps the campus safer, our greater community — the city of East Lansing and other communities that host our students in off-campus housing — also deserve to be safe places to live. That is why I am reminding each of you today that we still expect all students, faculty and staff to follow the MSU Community Compact. Wearing face coverings, practicing physical distancing, monitoring daily for symptoms and avoiding large gatherings are critical elements to being a Spartan right now.

MSU believes in an education-first approach to ensure compliance with these directives. However, we do have existing processes and policies in place that will be used to reinforce our expectations for everyone in our community. 

Additionally, the university will work closely with local law enforcement agencies, the county health department and city of East Lansing on all state and local ordinances. If a student is reported as having violated one of these ordinances or our campus directives and puts the public’s health or safety in danger, even while in an off-campus setting, the university will follow its General Student Regulations process. Although our first focus is education, students who are found in violation of these directives can face consequences including suspension or expulsion.

I want to be clear that we are taking these matters seriously and we will hold students accountable for their actions. The university, through our partnership with the city of East Lansing, has already received and is processing six student conduct complaints as a result of non-compliance at off-campus gatherings.

I realize what we’re asking of you is hard. For students, it goes against the college experience you wanted or hoped for. I’m sorry this is the situation we find ourselves in. I’d much rather we were all spending the fall attending social functions, sports games and getting to know the thousands of outstanding Spartans who are also proud to call MSU their home. But that is simply not possible right now. We are all in this pandemic together, and we must continue to look out for each other and hold one another accountable.

Spartan Safety Kits
Despite the decision to transition to virtual learning for most students, MSU still will distribute Spartan Safety Kits – containing face coverings, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes and a copy of the MSU Community Compact – to students remaining on campus this fall as well as those living in the surrounding community.

Students living in residence halls may pick up their kit during check-in. Students living off-campus who did not receive their kits from their landlord may pick them up at the MSU Union Ballroom from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Aug. 30 and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. Students will need to show student ID and sign for their kit. 

Health Screening tool
MSU is doing everything it can to help protect our Spartan community. Simple actions like completing a daily health screening bolster those efforts and help us limit the spread of COVID-19 within our community.

Earlier this month, I reminded all MSU employees that they must complete the official health screening form each day before beginning on-campus work. I also shared that this screening tool requirement would be expanded to include students, who are expected to complete the form each day before coming to campus. Due to the nature of the pandemic, however, MSU is strongly recommending that all students living off campus in East Lansing or the surrounding communities also complete the health screening form every day, even if they will not be on campus that day.

We are using a single screening form so that we can have real-time comprehensive health information for the entire community. Using the common form also enables students and employees to receive guidance when they report being symptomatic. Specifically, if a student or employee’s response indicates they may be symptomatic with COVID-19, the form will instruct them to stay home and contact the MSU COVID-19 Triage Line for further assessment.

By completing the form, students are helping keep not only themselves but also their immediate community safe. It also allows the university to better identify those students who are at risk and get them support more quickly.  

We have now updated the screening tool on our website and also have made it available on the MSU app for all students, faculty and staff. 

Mandatory self-quarantine for inbound students from high-risk areas
As more is uncovered regarding the behavior of COVID-19 and as best practices unveil themselves, our commitment to the community is to be responsive. As such, the university has updated its travel protocols for students from what was previously communicated in July. It is now required that all students traveling to East Lansing and surrounding communities from high-risk states and countries self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

For the health of our community, exceptions to this requirement are not being made.

To our Spartan travelers, please be sure to review the risk maps prior to traveling to East Lansing and surrounding communities, as they are updated frequently and the status of your home state or country may have changed since the last time you reviewed them.

Sample collection sites for COVID-19 testing
It is important to remember that any member of our community exhibiting signs of COVID-19 must seek immediate medical attention. Students and employees — whether they are on campus or off — should contact MSU's COVID-19 Triage Line at 855-958-2678 or their health care provider.

While we will have a limited number of students, faculty and staff on campus this fall, MSU still will provide COVID-19 testing for members of our community. MSU’s testing strategy is an important component in containing the spread of COVID-19 within our community and ensuring those who need testing have access to it. Our testing approach will allow us to rapidly help individuals who have symptoms and work effectively with our local and state public health agencies to identify and test those who may have been exposed.

MSU has activated the following testing locations for students, faculty and staff to be tested if they are experiencing symptoms:

  • Olin Health Center (by appointment only)
    Hours:  8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday
  • Spartan Stadium, Southeast Concourse, Gate B (no appointment necessary)
    Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
    Extended hours: 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday

MSU Community Detection Program
Early detection remains critical to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. That is why our Community Detection Program is a key part of our health and safety strategy and will continue this fall. This initiative will help us identify the possible presence of the virus in people who are asymptomatic. By analyzing saliva samples throughout the semester, we’ll be able to better monitor and manage infections on campus before outbreaks might occur. We’re asking all faculty, staff and students who will be in the East Lansing area this fall to volunteer and by doing so, you’ll help us mitigate the spread of the virus — the larger our volunteer pool, the better we’ll be able to detect outbreaks. You can read more about the program and enroll here.

Positive case reporting
Our Together We Will website now has a section on positive cases known to MSU. This weekly report reflects those who have been tested by appropriate medical professionals and have self-reported to the university, or those the university becomes aware of through our testing sites or local health departments, so it might not include all cases connected to the MSU community. The COVID-19 case tracker will be updated each Monday and include the number of known new cases each week categorized by employees and students. Names and identifying information will not be provided.

As the new page explains, we continue to follow a contact tracing protocol that notifies individuals believed to have been in close contact (defined by the CDC as being within 6 feet or less for more than 15 minutes) with a person who has tested positive.

Spartan spirit
The true Spartan spirit has shone through since the onset of this pandemic. Together — faculty, staff and students alike — we’ve lifted each other up, supported one another by our words and actions and found ways to continue innovating and creating solutions to the problems that lie ahead. I know you will all bring that same tenacity with you as we embark on our fall semester journey together. Together, we will.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.