124 Michigan State University students test positive for COVID-19

Officials say coronavirus spread linked to large gatherings in East Lansing

A sign outside the Michigan State University Student Union building alerts students to MSU's face covering rule on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. Students at Michigan universities are receiving emails from their schools welcoming them back for the fall, but a cloud of concern is hovering because of the coronavirus pandemic. To go online or to come in person has been the debate, but since Michigan State University announced Tuesday it will go online for the next semester, the debate is reaching a fever pitch. (AP Photo/Anna Nichols) (Anna Nichols, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

EAST LANSING, Mich. – In just over a week, more than 120 Michigan State University students have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), the university announced Tuesday.

Officials do not believe the cases are linked to one particular event, but rather are connected to multiple large student gatherings taking place in East Lansing. Nearly all of the 124 students who tested positive for the virus live off campus, according to officials.

“This increase in positive cases among students is disappointing, but not unexpected,” said President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “As students return to off-campus housing, some are attending large gatherings where people are in close contact without an appropriate face covering. This is the easiest and fastest way for the coronavirus to spread.

“This spike in cases should serve as a wake-up call to our community about the importance of personal responsibility and following health guidelines. Please, avoid large gatherings, wear a face covering, practice physical distancing and wash your hands frequently. We all share the responsibility to keep ourselves and our community safe. I hope that all students who are infected make full recoveries,” Stanley added.

The increase of 124 new confirmed COVID-19 cases occurred between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8, according to the university’s virus testing and reporting website. The university only reported an increase of three new COVID-19 cases during the week of Aug. 24, and only four new cases during the week of Aug. 17.

Officials say the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reflect only symptomatic students who either got tested for the virus at a MSU testing location, or self-reported a private positive test to the school. Students are reportedly not obligated to self-report COVID-19 test results to the university.

The university is conducting contact tracing and has directed the 124 students to self-isolate and “receive appropriate medical care,” officials said.

“Over the past week, we have seen the sharpest spike in Ingham County COVID-19 cases to date. The increase is directly tied to various social gatherings, many of which were over capacity. We cannot allow this to continue. If students do not take precautions to heart, more drastic measures will be required,” said Ingham County Health Officer Linda S. Vail. “Everyone must be vigilant and must follow safety guidelines. The health department is working in close partnership with the university and the city of East Lansing, but we need the students to join us in our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

In mid-August the university announced plans to move all undergraduate courses online due to the pandemic. With exceptions for graduate students and students in the colleges of Law, Human Medicine, Nursing, Osteopathic Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, students planning to live on campus this fall were asked to stay home and complete their courses online.

Michigan State University provides a weekly report on new confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on campus online right here.

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Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.