ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — There's a push at the University of Michigan by a group of instructors to start the semester online. About 1,000 are looking to do it without the university's approval.
They're concerned about COVID-19 case counts and that the mitigation measures in place last semester won't be sufficient to protect students and staff this semester because of the omicron variant.
However, the university says the precautions are enough.
"I'm honestly surprised that we're still open because of the cases going up. I also am really happy because I'm for in-person learning," sophomore Lia Kahrenanis said.
"I was expecting to go online. I kept checking my email this week. They kept emailing us saying, oh, it's in person," junior Sophie Busch said.
The Graduate Employees' Organization wants the university to pivot to remote classes for the first two weeks of the semester.
"Even to be able to have instructors have the choice to go in person or remote would be a significant step in the right direction," Amir Fleischmann, a graduate student instructor, said.
In an email to the university, Provost Susan Collins said 98% of faculty and 98% of students are vaccinated. Those who are exempt get tested weekly, and there's still an indoor masking mandate.
However, Fleischmann said, "The university hasn't really been able to show us that says there still wouldn't be classroom transmission with omicron."
He said cloth masks won't do the job.
Susan Ringler Cerniglia, public information officer for the Washtenaw County Health Department, said hospitalizations and deaths in the county are up from the latest surge.
However when it comes to schools, it's a different story.
"What we've seen with classroom transmission is that it tends to be very very low," she explained.
Ringler Cerniglia credits the university's vaccine and mask mandates and said it's unclear if going remote will impact transmission.
"That said, for folks who may be more vulnerable such as people that are immunocompromised or have other concerns, it might be a good idea for them to have remote access if that's feasible," she explained.
"But as far as the entire institution shifting to remote, it's not clear that that's really going to help overall transmission," Ringler Cerniglia continued.
Both the health department and the provost say social gatherings outside of the classroom are a bigger concern.
Ringler Cerniglia suggests everyone upgrade their mask to a surgical mask or KN95 rather than a cloth mask.
Additional Coronavirus information and resources:
View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.
See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.