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MTU halts in-person instruction for two weeks

(Photo courtesy of MTU)

HANCOCK — Michigan Technological University became the latest educational institution to move to virtual learning for two weeks in response to rising COVID-19 rates and community spread in the area, which also included the second COVID-19 death in the Copper Country.

The move to online learning for lecture-based classes will be no later than Wednesday, President Rick Koubek said in a letter to campus Sunday.

Starting Monday, Tech will move to Level 4 of its Return to Campus plan, the second-most restrictive level. Level 4, like the previous Level 3, would normally still include a mix of face-to-face and remote instruction.

Koubek said closing in-person instruction was a targeted effort to mitigate spread by reducing the density of people on campus.

Students were asked to avoid group gatherings in the larger community, particularly during the next two weeks.

“Now, more than ever, we must stand united in support of our neighbors and friends,” Koubek said in the letter. “The community is counting on us to be as vigilant as ever. I know we will do our part to help mitigate the spread of the virus. By working together, we will get through this.”

Tech’s COVID-19 testing lab will also temporarily allocate 30% more of its surveillance capacity for public testing.

For Senior Design, Enterprise, and other experiential-based courses, instructors will let students know if they will stay in-person by no later than Tuesday afternoon.

Where most employees had returned to campus under Level 3, Level 4 asks supervisors to accommodate employees who can work from home or who have been impacted by the closure of K-12 schools.

Tech’s Level 4 also closes most common areas, restricts access to campus buildings and restricts visitors whose presence is judged to be consistent with the university’s mission.

Group gatherings are also limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

On Friday, Houghton County K-12 districts, as well as the Houghton location for Gogebic Community College, announced they would be going to virtual instruction for the next two weeks as part of the effort to reduce the community spread.

Saturday, the WUPHD confirmed a Baraga County resident had died of complications from COVID-19. The elderly person had been hospitalized at an Upper Peninsula hospital at the time of their death, the WUPHD said in a statement.

“Our heartfelt sympathies and prayers go out to the family and community who has lost their loved one,” WUPHD Health Officer Kate Beer said in a statement. “This is a sad reminder of the danger that COVID-19 continues to impose on our friends and our families. We must be more vigilant in our prevention efforts, especially for the safety of our elderly and vulnerable populations.”

One COVID-19 death occurred in Houghton County. The other death within WUPHD’s five-county jurisdiction happened in Gogebic County.

Numbers in Houghton County rose from 61 on Aug. 31 to 337 as of Friday. Baraga County, which had been largely status, went from six cases to 17 over the past two weeks.

In addition to a rise in cases per million and the positivity rate of tests, Houghton County is also seeing an increase in people seeking medical attention for symptoms, Beer said during an interview Friday.

The spread of COVID-19 comes as Michigan Tech makes up a smaller share. As of Friday, there had been 63 positive COVID-19 cases in the previous two weeks, compared to 92 a week earlier.

“Right now, we’re seeing it in family gatherings, we’re seeing it in events, restaurants, weddings, funerals, you name it,” she said.

Some health care workers have been among those testing positive or close contacts among people who have, Beer said.

In the K-12 schools themselves, there had been several COVID-19 positives, and a rise in the number of probable cases, Beer said.

“As it progressed over the last few days, we got very concerned about seeing additional positives,” she said. “Today we’re starting to see more positives that are linked back to schools.”

In an interview Friday, Beer said there had been discussions with Tech about closing for face-to-face instruction. However, Tech had been good so far about staying safe and socially distanced, she said.

“Keeping them on campus is actually safer than having them congregate outside of campus or going home and taking the virus somewhere else,” she said.

Beer said the two-week pause gives health care providers a chance to strengthen the systems in place for combatting COVID-19, shore up staffing and get additional resources in place. It also gives the community time to look at other ways it can mitigate the outbreak, she said.

“The goal has always been to slow the spread, and this is one of the ways we feel we can have an impact to slow that spread,” she said.

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