COVID-19 & Campus
March 17, 2020
Zane Harding

The University of Michigan has closed for multiple days in a row twice in the past 120 years. It closed for two days in 2019 due to the polar vortex that passed through the area (wind chills hit -50 degrees Fahrenheit), and this past week, it closed on Thursday and Friday, and has moved to remote courses for the remainder of the winter 2020 semester. 

In a 120-year span that saw two World Wars, other pandemics such as Spanish flu and polio, and powerful social movements such as the civil rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement, the university has only closed its doors on consecutive days two times, and both occurrences have come since the beginning of 2019.

The day that this blog post is published will mark one week since COVID-19 shut down all in-person classes at the University of Michigan in favor of remote courses and social distancing for the remainder of the semester. The situation is changing on an almost daily basis as we learn new information about the virus and its spread. It’s hard to know what lays ahead. 

The above photo is a picture of my apartment complex parking lot as of this writing. Between this lot and one to the side of the building, nine out of eighteen spots are currently in use..

My point is that half of the renters in my apartment complex appear to have cleared out and returned home. Presumably, it would be more likely for off-campus students to stay on campus during the COVID-19 outbreak than it would be for on-campus students living in crowded dormitories. Indeed, the population of campus has appeared to have been cut, at the very least, by half, or more than 20,000 students  That was the point, of course. President Mark Schlissel encouraged all students who are able to return home to leave campus in a recent announcement, as the university attempts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

But for a moment, I’d like to describe what life is like here in Ann Arbor in the midst of this outbreak.

It’s quiet. That should go without saying. During the few times that I have left the apartment for a walk since the outbreak reached Michigan, it has been quiet outside, and the number of people I see as I am out reduces each day. On Sunday, I watched as many students packed up family cars to return home as their stays in South Quad and West Quad were cut short. Will housing reimburse them for the month they do not live here? I ponder this as I continue onward.

While I would have returned home had I been living in the dorms, I have opted to stay on campus. I am a senior who will graduate after my spring semester, and I am paying rent to live here. My house back home can be a bit crowded at times when I’m around, and even worse, it’s distracting. I love my parents and my little sister, but I have an independent study and multiple classes to wrap in the next month, and I have never written more than two pages in a row back home. With five or six papers with lengths ranging from five pages to twenty-five pages looming in the next four weeks, I have to stay in a quiet environment if I want to complete these courses.

Of course, I am doing my part to prevent the spread of the disease. I am limiting my social contact to those I live around and am confining myself to time in my apartment and occasional walks outside to get fresh air. 

I understand how hard this can be for others who live off social energy more than I do – I am about 60/40 on the “extroverted/introverted” scale – but I can spend multiple days at a time playing Sid Meier’s Civilization VI or watching an old sports documentary. Nevertheless, it is our civic responsibility to protect our high-risk populations and limit the spread of this disease so that our medical facilities are not overwhelmed with patients in the coming weeks.

Current students, future students, past students, and anybody reading this: please do your best to not spread the disease. Unless we are mandated by authorities to do so, don’t feel forced to go home if it will not be conducive to your learning or if you don’t have the option to return home; yet, don’t recklessly socialize and prioritize your “fun” and your life over the lives of those who you may indirectly impact. 

This is an opportunity for humanity to come together against a common foe and band together to reduce this virus’ negative impact on our fellow people. Do your part for your family members, for your fellow Wolverines, for your friends and their families, for your fellow community members, and for everybody else you don’t know. Go Blue.


Zane Harding

is a senior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts majoring in English. He first became passionate about writing when he helped found the Michigan Society for American Baseball Research (better known as M-SABR). Today, Zane writes for SB Nation's Bless You Boys covering the Detroit Tigers (but he spends most of his time writing music) and is preparing to enter a career at U-M.