University of Michigan students were told to stay home by county authorities on Wednesday, in hopes of curbing the spread of a contagious coronavirus variant.

The Washtenaw County Health Department said its recommendation “has the full support of” school officials.

‘”Students are being asked to remain at their campus-area addresses and to not gather with others outside of their household members,” according to a health department statement.

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“Students are permitted to leave their residence only to participate in limited activities, including in-person classes, work or research that cannot be completed remotely, obtaining food and medical care and other approved activities.”

This new, more contagious variant of coronavirus has public health officials on edge, fearing that the illness could spread rapidly even as more vaccines are administered across the nation.

The University of Michigan is academic home to more than 31,000 undergraduates and nearly 17,000 graduate students.

About 90 percent of the school’s courses are already virtual. The practical impact of Wednesday’s recommendation is aimed at keeping students from gathering outside of classrooms, health department spokeswoman Susan Ringler Cerniglia said.

“We are very concerned about the potential for this variant to spread quickly,” Washtenaw health officer Jimena Loveluck said in a statement. “We are working closely with the university to take coordinated steps to control the current outbreak and understand the situation more fully.”

The health department wants university students to stay home unless they’re going out to buy food or medicine, seeing a doctor, attending worship services or exercising outdoors, Cerniglia said.

“(University of Michigan) public health and medical professionals agree that now is the time to implement these additional temporary measures before spread of this more infectious version of Covid-19 threatens to overwhelm our ability to address the virus,” according to a university statement.

“Pressing the pause button on nonessential activities will help us protect each other from illness and preserve our ability to eventually resume more normal activities as we continue our vaccination efforts.”

This past weekend, the school’s Wolverines athletic teams hit pause on all games and practices for 14 days in wake of the variant. The stop in play impacts Michigan’s nationally ranked men’s and women’s basketball teams and men’s ice hockey squad.

Originally published January 28, 2021, 2:50 PM

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