The University Update

There are only a handful of university presidents across the country who are also medical doctors, and Michigan boasts 4 of them: Oakland University’s Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D.; Wayne State University’s M. Roy Wilson, M.D., M.S.; Michigan State University’s Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.; and the University of Michigan’s Mark S. Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D.

I had the pleasure this week of listening in on a Detroit Regional Chamber webinar addressing COVID-19 updates, of which Wilson, Stanley, and Schlissel were panel members. All are serving on the Governor’s Economic Recovery Commission (ERC). The panel discussed topics from finance to medical advancements to plans for the future. Here are few highlights:

  • The ERC is utilizing data-based information from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, coupled with best practices information provided by other countries who are further along in dealing with COVID-19, to divide Michigan industries into low, medium and high risk classifications. While doing so, the ERC is keeping the projected load on Michigan’s health care system in view as a critical consideration. A strategy for reentry that is unique to each class of industry is being developed.
  • Michigan State University is researching therapeutics and testing. They have developed a new antibody/immunity test that is more accurate than tests currently available, can detect lower levels of antibodies, and uses more widely available reagents. MSU is working with Michigan senators and representatives to submit its test to the FDA for expedited approval.
  • The University of Michigan is working with artificial intelligence tools to examine existing drugs and identify those which are most likely to be helpful in the fight against COVID-19. Schlissel remarked that the global scientific community is galvanized like never before, and that advancements in science and medicine have helped to significantly reduce the potential harm from this pandemic in comparison to those of 50-70 years ago and beyond.
  • Wayne State’s M. Roy Wilson discussed the identification of and spotlight on inequalities in health care. He noted that while extremely concerning, identification of the issue with regard to COVID-19 has created the “silver lining” effect of a new level of consciousness of the disparities suffered by minorities in obtaining health care, from which he expects new efforts to be implemented to bring about change.

At the end of the webinar, all three were asked about their vision of the fall semester at their respective universities. Wilson expressed doubt that in-person classes would return in the fall, but also hope that things could change quickly enough to allow for it. Stanley noted that the field of higher education involves many different types of considerations, and that the optimal time for a return to in-person learning may vary for different types of educational settings. Schlissel indicated that U of M is looking to have a full semester informed by safety, and that they felt that getting back to a positive trajectory was very important. He opined that large seminar classes may remain online, with smaller classes being held in person and students being asked to wear masks, but he expected students to be back on campus.

I left the webinar feeling grateful that our universities and their students and staff are functioning under the leadership of these fine gentlemen. It was, indeed, a Pure Michigan experience.