COVID-19 has been hard on our community. It has been especially hard on the mental health of our students and employees. I write to you today to acknowledge those difficulties and to remind you of the resources that are here for you.
I also write to ask for your commitment to the Spartan community through adherence to the basic health and safety measures that will enable us to return together safer and sooner.
Being part of the Spartan community means that at times we must all make sacrifices for the greater good of our community and beloved university. This is one of those moments. The difficult sacrifices we are making to address COVID-19 are neither what we hoped or planned, but they are absolutely necessary.
Measures like those taken two weeks ago by the Ingham County Health Department — a recommended quarantine for all students and mandatory quarantine for more than 30 off-campus houses — are in the spirit of keeping everyone in our community safe. These actions may seem harsh to some, but we all must do what we can to protect one another and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. The quarantine was an effective way to stem the spread of the virus. Now that the recommended quarantine is over, we expect students to continue to follow the MSU Community Compact guidelines — mask-wearing, social distancing, washing your hands and avoiding large gatherings.
We know this effort alone is not enough, but when coupled with contact tracing, mask-wearing, physical distancing and adhering to all other health and safety measures in place, we can tackle this outbreak head-on.
I understand and empathize with the deep frustration of our community right now, including that of our students. These measures can be isolating, and for students, especially, it can feel as though the world is watching every move. That is why I again want to reassure our entire campus community that your leaders at MSU are here to support your academic and intellectual well-being as well as your physical and mental well-being.
Taking care of yourself
One challenge that has been present since the onset of the pandemic is the very real impact this virus can have on mental health. MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services has expanded its virtual resources to ensure all students have access to the help and support they need as we navigate this seemingly isolating time. Students can take advantage of crisis counseling, download a virtual care kit or seek consultation services aimed at reaching historically underrepresented groups, among many other programs. Please, reach out if you need support or a listening ear. As always, if you need immediate help, our crisis hotline is available 24/7: Dial 517-355-8270 and press "1" to be connected to a crisis counselor.
Staff, faculty, graduate student assistants and retirees have access to the MSU Employee Assistance Program, which is providing all of its counseling sessions over the phone or by videoconference. Please call 517-355-4506 to set up an appointment.
For everyone in our community, the flu season brings additional challenges and will almost certainly exacerbate the challenges of COVID-19. That is why it is important that all Spartans get a flu shot this year. A drive-through location has been set up at the MSU Pavilion for our Spartan community and many pharmacies also offer flu shots. We don’t care where you get it, we just care that you get it. A flu shot this season is an additional, critical measure we all should take to protect ourselves and others.
Testing and contact tracing
Testing and contact tracing are necessary tools to identify outbreaks so that we can keep Spartans and our greater community safe. These measures are critical, and your full cooperation with local health officials is of paramount importance. Please make sure you are getting tested if you show any symptoms or know you have been in contact with someone else who tested positive.
To be clear, you are expected to fully cooperate with the contract tracing process. Promptness and transparency are critical, and that is why it is important that you pick up the phone when you see a number from a 517 area code — it might be the Ingham County Health Department or Office of the University Physician contacting you. And if you miss their call or text, please promptly return it. Testing positive is not a policy violation, but behaviors that could endanger the health and safety of others could be.
Big Ten football
While there are a number of concerns to address, many are excited to see the return of college football this fall. Since the Big Ten Conference’s initial decision to postpone the season was announced, Big Ten leaders have worked tirelessly on a testing strategy that keeps our student-athletes and athletics staff safe, minimizing the risk of spreading the virus. With this decision, we have made it clear there will be no fans allowed in the stadium and tailgating will not be permitted on campus.
This decision was driven by the question, “Could the Big Ten provide a safe environment for these student-athletes to pursue their passion and compete?” Once we felt confident in answering that question affirmatively, Big Ten leaders decided to move forward. But with that decision, the MSU athletics department is able to address some of its budget impacts, keeping more of our athletics staff members employed. The decision also allows many more of our student-athletes in other sports to continue to pursue their passion and compete — when it is safe to do so.
As we look toward the start of the football season, MSU will continue to work with our partners at the Ingham County Health Department and City of East Lansing to protect the safety and well-being of our surrounding community and hold accountable those who disregard public health measures at the expense of that safety.
MSU COVID-19 dashboard
Last week, MSU updated its COVID-19 testing and reporting dashboard. The new dashboard includes information on the clinical tests performed on campus in addition to the number of on-campus students in self-quarantine or self-isolation. The dashboard also provides data on the number of cases connected to MSU students, faculty and staff, as reported by the Ingham County Health Department. The dashboard is updated regularly with the latest information for our campus community and the general public.
Additional guidance for returning to work
As the university continues its process for how and when to welcome more employees back to campus for work, MSU Human Resources has provided a supporting resource that is complementary to its Decision-Making Guide for Returning Work to Campus. This new document was developed to answer questions and provide guidance on an inclusive and equitable return of employees to campus work. As we continue to navigate this pandemic, continuing to work remotely where possible is the best option for the university at this time to protect not only each of you but our broader community as well.
I know many of you have questions about what the spring semester will look like. Our Reopening Task Force and leadership teams continue to meet and make plans for both the spring semester and beyond as we collectively battle the pandemic.
Some misleading media headlines from last week might have given the impression that we’ve already made a decision, but that is not the case. There will be more details in the coming weeks to share. As we look toward the future, however, one thing remains clear: Our actions this fall will have a direct impact on how we proceed with our spring semester.
As we have said from the start, slowing the transmission of this virus takes all of us doing our part — faculty, staff, students and our community. We must not only do our part but encourage others to do theirs — respectfully. This fall, we all have one common enemy: COVID-19. Let’s defeat it so that we can get back to seeing each other in person sooner and show everyone what it means to be a Spartan in the process.
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.