In Ingham County, the virus rapidly bloomed.
“The students came back anyway, and swooped down on bars and restaurants and other places and caused outbreaks in the community,” said Debra Furr-Holden, a Michigan State epidemiologist and associate dean for public health integration. The university quickly pivoted, she said, trying to reach students and offering testing, but found it was difficult to convince them to follow rules.
“We had an unintended negative consequence that these students were then not within our safety and protection and under our purview where we could better dictate testing, isolation, quarantine and all of that,” she said.
The county went from having about 300 new infections in August to about 1,800 in September. On Sept. 14, health officials said a majority of the newest cases involved students at Michigan State and ordered people in many fraternities and sororities to quarantine. Virus deaths have more than tripled in the county since the end of August, to 141 from 41.
In mid-October, Dennis Neuner was driving home from a hospital in Lansing, having just dropped off his wife, Sharon, who was admitted. They had both tested positive for the coronavirus and she developed a nasty cough.
Mr. Neuner took a shortcut on M.A.C. Avenue, home to some of Michigan State’s sororities. He said he saw some 200 students dotting the lawns, celebrating a football game. Some had red Solo cups, some were playing beer pong and cornhole.
“I didn’t see one mask,” he said.
Mr. Neuner made arrangements for a friend to watch his Jack Russell terrier, Daisy, then drove back to the hospital, where he was also admitted for respiratory distress.
By the next day, his symptoms had improved enough for him to recuperate at home. His wife, 71, who had been healthy and active before catching the virus, eventually developed a blood infection and could no longer breathe on her own. She died on Nov. 12.