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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

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Editorial—With Marquette cases rising, let’s be ‘ready to pivot’ quickly

Graphic courtesy of NMU Safe on Campus dashboard

With cases of COVID-19 rising in Marquette County and threatening to interfere with the end of the fall semester, we at the North Wind have been worrying an awful lot about NMU’s COVID-19 action thresholds.

NMU currently has 83 active positives as of Nov. 6, constituting 1.62% of the NMU population, much below the COVID-19 “Percent of Positive Tests (Prevalence of Disease)” threshold anticipated for action to be taken by the administration. This threshold is listed on the NMU Safe on Campus Dashboard as, “For planning, a starting number is 7 percent of the student body.”

There is no magic number which will cause the university to reevaluate and potentially move classes to online-only instruction, as  Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives Cindy Paavola explained in recent North Wind news coverage. The decisions made by the university in response to COVID-19 spikes are entirely situational, and each new group of cases are looked at in context. That said, if 7% were reached before they made any major decisions we would worry. Such a high percentage would be hard to trace and would lead to a lot of potential exposure.

Now the university has been able to keep things pretty secure with a majority of cases happening off-campus, but that 7% is pretty interesting because Marquette County is at a 10.1% infection rate as of Nov. 6. It’s easy to look at the university case dashboard and think everything is fine, but the Marquette County data is more worrying. Currently, we are averaging 41 cases per day as of Nov. 6 according to the NY Times, which is something students should be wary of.

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For the period of August 23 through September 12, Marquette county’s number of cases remained below 30. For the period of September 13 through October 3, the cases hovered around 50, but then the cases jumped into the triple digits. Marquette reported 186 positive cases of COVID-19 for the week of October 18 through 24, and 115 cases for the week of October 25 through 31, according to the safe on campus dashboard as of Nov. 2.

This does seem to meet the “Disease Incidence” threshold explained as, “An increased trend in positive cases of COVID-19 over an established period at the state, regional, or county level” on the dashboard.

Perhaps due to the rise in cases in the surrounding area, which has likely resulted in the off-campus student COVID-19 infection count of 44 people as of Nov. 6, the university should begin putting in place online-only instruction until the end of the semester. 

The rising case numbers in the county and on campus are especially worrying before the holidays when we are, hopefully, going to be seeing family members and friends who may be at a higher risk. It is better to be overly cautious and be prepared to switch to online learning when there is going to be a mass flight from the Marquette area in a few weeks. These precautions aren’t only for us and the surrounding community, but to our family and friends back home as well.

Fortunately, the university seems to be reevaluating the situation currently, and President Fritz Erickson sent out an email on Oct. 30, letting students know NMU is “ready to pivot.”

“I’ve been asked if Northern will be forced to switch to remote learning due to the rising positive COVID cases,” Erickson wrote. “I think if we continue to be proactive, as we have been with such things as our recent visitor restrictions and surveillance testing, and we’re diligent about maintaining our COVID-19 procedures, we have a good chance to make it to the end of the semester just three weeks away. That said, being ready to pivot quickly if necessary is good strategy in a pandemic and something I know we’re capable of doing if we need to do so. We have started talking to faculty and staff about having their remote option ready to go if needed quickly.”

It’s reassuring that Erickson put out this statement, and students should take his message to heart, being prepared to adapt if need be. In the UP, all eyes are on NMU to see what they will do next and how the community will follow. NMU and the rest of our community need to keep working together and it sounds like Erickson is aware of this, always hoping to stay one step ahead. We are hopeful that he will continue to make the right decisions if things start to look any worse. 

It might be a bit optimistic to have full confidence we can make it through the rest of the semester, but we hope it will happen. We are so close to the end of the semester! Other colleges, like the University of Michigan, have already switched to completely online learning due to COVID-19 cases but we have managed to make it this far with fairly low case numbers, up until recently. Students and the community need to stay together and on the same page, following regulations as closely as we can. So far, we’ve collectively as a university done a good job of handling COVID-19, and we can’t become complacent in the final month.

We still don’t know the true effects from Halloween, but If people continue to behave at this point, we will surely make it. Hopefully, people were responsible so it doesn’t set us up for disaster at the hands of a select number of people. We worry, how community spread will begin to harm everyone in Marquette, including students, if we will see another spike in cases due to parties or people ignoring regulations. 

It is up to everyone to keep it together. Just keep your circle small, wear your gosh dang mask over your nose and you’ll be fine, hopefully. Now, Marquette as a whole is taking this quite seriously. Go a bit west and north, they still throw house parties at that school. Northern? Not too much. I think that says a lot about the ambition to do good for the community that seems to come naturally at NMU for students, faculty, and staff. Let’s keep that up. Stay smart, stay safe, and be ready to pivot.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is an editorial, written by the North Wind Editorial Board in its entirety. It reflects the majority views of the individuals who make up the editorial staff of the North Wind. It is the policy of the Editorial Board not to endorse candidates for any political office, in order to avoid aligning this public forum with particular political organizations.

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