“It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time….”

Undergraduates at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have been ordered by the Washtenaw County Health Department to “stay in place” due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases on campus (Chronicle of Higher Education online, October 20).

Behind the scenes, however, University Life has uncovered a more complicated story, both tragic and bittersweet.  

According to an anonymous University of Michigan administrator, three weeks ago the school initiated a new policy for dealing with students who tested positive for the coronavirus after violating safety protocols:  the students were required to perform community service by volunteering at local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. 

As the administrator put it, “our intentions were noble, but in retrospect it’s clear that we didn’t think through the potential consequences of this policy.  For example, the population of the Happy Wrinkles Nursing Home in nearby Barton Hills quickly shrunk from 350 to 22.” 

“Residents were dropping like flies in a horse barn sprayed with Raid,” lamented Happy Wrinkles Executive Director Clyde Gansling III.  “It was a damn shame.  And we only had three ventilators from Family Dollar on hand for the entire facility, which didn’t help matters.”

Amidst all this catastrophic misery and shortness of breath at Happy Wrinkles there were some joyous encounters.  Here is 97-year-old Minnie Cohenstein:  “My late husband Sol was a wonderful man, but for most of our 70-year marriage he was a no-show in the romance department.  And then, at ceramics class one afternoon in the Sun Room, I met Thad, a sophomore poetry major from the University.  Never have I felt more fulfilled as a woman than during the two weeks we spent together.  I’ll just stop there.  I’m a lady, you know.” 

When asked for his comments, Thad simply smiled and said, “Minnie taught me so much.  About life.  About love.  About how a small trampoline and some clam dip can be used to enhance a relationship.  I had no idea that community service could be so meaningful.  I wish her well.”