COVID-19 Preparedness and Response - Update from the Department of Pathology

By Jeffrey Myers | March 16 2020

The information in this message was released on March 16th and March 18th and is intended to provide information supplemental to the many emails being received from institutional sources regarding the current state of our preparations for and responses to COVID-19.  Please continue to monitor your email and use institutional web-based resources (COVID-19 UPDATES and the COVID-19 Resource page) for updates in a very fluid and dynamic landscape.  Please also take advantage of other communications opportunities in your work area (e.g., huddles) to stay up-to-date.


Workforce planning

Multiple departmental leaders, administrators, and managers invested time, energy and ideas over the weekend to ensure our ability to maintain clinical operations in the days and weeks ahead.  Early assessments indicate that we may have staffing vulnerabilities primarily in the ambulatory care setting.  This is likely to fluctuate and will be monitored daily by our Directors of Operations.  Preliminary survey results from faculty respondents in anatomic pathology (AP) indicate that 15-20% are “definitely” or “sometimes” impacted by school closures in a way that is likely to interfere with their ability to come to work as scheduled.  An additional survey may be required to better understand the impact of faculty availability on clinical operations in AP.


As referenced in an email sent on Friday (attached), decisions to work from home or to set aside expectations for clinical duties require the participation of, and approval by,

  • managers, supervisors and Directors of Operations (Christine Rigney and Kristina Martin) for staff,
  • Program Directors and the Education Programs Division Director (Dr. Carol Farver) for trainees, and
  • Division Directors (Drs. Riccardo Valdez and Jeffrey Myers) for faculty.

Managing in times of crisis is necessarily a team sport, recognizing that collaborative ideation can be powerful when it comes to allocating and safeguarding our workforce in the face of a pandemic that may escalate, rather than diminish, demands for services.  Individual staff and faculty DO NOT have the prerogative to make these decisions independently.  Managers and Directors will continue to apply the principles articulated in the email sent on Friday in responding to requests to work remotely.  


Dr. Marschall Runge announced on Friday a temporary one-time paid time off (PTO) bank for COVID-19 to be used in the case of quarantine, isolation, and/or family care that results from illness or exposure.  This is intended to facilitate compliance with institutional expectations that you STAY HOME if you are ill and symptomatic – to do otherwise poses an unnecessary risk to co-workers and others.  This bank can also be used should you have an unresolved need to care for your children as a consequence of school closures or loss of childcare resources for other reasons related to COVID-19.  At the moment we do not know how long this will last so it is important that your PTO be managed carefully in collaboration with your supervisor and/or manager.  ALL PTO – including PTO drawn from your temporary one-time bank for COVID-19 - requires the approval of your supervisor! 


Laboratory testing for SARS-CoV-2

The importance of laboratory services is rarely if ever greater than it is at times like this.  You have likely read or heard stories in the news or on social media about commercial and peer academic laboratories with recently announced tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (the illness).  Some of the laboratories and institutions that have announced new tests have rapidly exceeded their capacity to meet the demand, which speaks to the current appetite for these laboratory services.  Some of these stories highlight “drive-through testing”, a service more properly referred to as “drive-through specimen acquisition” for testing that may or may not occur at the same facility.  All of this is intended only to say that the testing landscape is complicated and rapidly evolving!


In the midst of that our microbiology team has been working diligently 24/7 to solve the testing problem for our patients.  Departmental leadership will soon be making an announcement regarding our ability to do testing in our own laboratory.  In the meantime, our first batch of tests were shipped on Saturday to a reference laboratory partner.  Our own “in-house” laboratory-developed test (LDT), in combination with our reference laboratory provider, will be instrumental in helping us care for those who are looking to us for help.


You can be certain that our microbiology team has not lacked for motivation or ability, and remains a leader in the state of Michigan when it comes to rapidly developing testing solutions with a path to scalability that will sustain us going forward.


COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Team (CPRT)

The department has created a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Team (CPRT) to remain nimble in our responses to a rapidly changing environment, one that is likely to stabilize in the weeks ahead.  This team met on Friday and again today, and will continue to meet at 9:00 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Information regarding workforce, testing capacity, supply change, and any changes in clinical services and/or Michigan Medicine strategies/tactics/policies will populate the agenda for our daily administrative huddle that occurs Monday through Friday at 1:00 pm.  Many of your departmental leaders and managers are working with peers in the institution around the clock, 7 days a week to ensure the safety of our patients and our workforce.  We will continue sharing information via email when we have information that is supplemental to what you are already receiving.  In the meantime please continue to use the institutional resources listed above and your direct supervisor should you have any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.


Click on the above for frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding Michigan Medicine’s PTO Bank dedicated to the impact of COVID-19.  This PTO Bank applies to both faculty and staff.


Please note that use of the COVID PTO bank must be pre-approved through the normal request process.  The COVID-19 One-Time Bank form must be completed prior to use so the appropriate payroll codes will be loaded into the employee’s timesheet. A copy of this form, which requires approval by your supervisor (Division Directors for faculty), must be sent to Rebecca Roberts.


Please see the FAQs for more information on use of this one-time bank.  If employees develop an illness with COVID-like symptoms (e.g., cough, fever), Occupational Health Services (OHS) must be contacted either via the hotline (734-736-6336) or email for further instructions.  Staff should use their normal PTO/sick bank if they are diagnosed with a non-COVID related illness (e.g. flu, rhinovirus etc.).  At the present time using the bank for childcare is limited to  dependents affected by school closings (K-12) and does not apply to daycares.  Please be mindful that schools may remain closed longer than the current estimate as we have just witnessed in Kansas where schools are now closed until the end of the school year.   


Impact of suspended parking enforcement and reduced bus schedules

Please note that the parking enforcement suspensions announced yesterday apply only to North, Central and South campuses.  Parking restrictions will continue to be enforced at structures and surface lots on the Medical Center Campus (P1-P5 and all parking areas designated with an “M”prefix), including the Wall Street area.  Parking will also be enforced as per usual for individual parking spaces (such as Gold, Handicap, Service or Business Vehicles) and areas signed for 24/7 enforcement.


Parking enforcement is suspended for lot NC95 at NCRC except for Gold, handicap, and business/service designated spots.


There is NO CHANGE to the Northeast Shuttle bus schedule; please check website for updates.


UNLNC/NLNC Courier Service Interruptions

The courier service is experiencing a staffing shortage and will not be able to continue their hourly run between midnight and 6am.  Please be aware that SP will be making every effort to get the bulk of morning specimens to the labs in a timely manner.  We are altering our staffing plan at UH and have someone coming in at 4am to help package the bulk of these specimens.  Please bear with us during this temporary situation.  I will keep you informed if the situation changes.


Supply Chain Issues – Theft may result in termination of employment

We are facing several challenges in maintaining supplies critical for testing and keeping our workforce safe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.  This is largely the consequence of insufficient supply from upstream vendors given escalating international demand for their products.  Over the last week this has been compounded by workplace theft of PPE, coats, masks, scrubs, goggles, gloves, foot covers, head covers, face shields, disinfectants, hand sanitizers and Clorox wipes.  Theft of university property is considered serious misconduct.  This email shall serve as a reminder that stealing will not be tolerated and is subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment. 


Blood Drives

There continue to be critical shortages of blood products due to a significant drop in blood donations.  We are delighted to report that appointments are already filled for the blood drive scheduled at NCRC, building 18, for next Tuesday, March 24th.  For those who are ready, willing, and able to donate, another drive has been scheduled for Thursday, March 26th, at the U of M Hospital Towsley Lobby from 6:30 AM – 6:30 PM.


THANK YOU for your collaborative and collegial response to the challenges of COVID-19.  Many staff, trainees and faculty continue to go above and beyond in identifying ways in which to be of service in a time of need.  It is in times like these that what we do and how we do it reflects more clearly than at any other why we are here, which in our case is to transform the experience of healthcare from a laboratory platform built on a foundation of research, discovery and education.