Dean's Update

December 23, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


The core of the university traditional winter break starts tomorrow, and this year the university has extended the official days-off through all of the week. It is my hope that as many people as possible get some kind of break during that time. If you are a supervisor, please try to hold back the work you can. As an example, the college has “fall planning” work to do in January, but I am not passing out assignments until after the break.

While I want to encourage as many people as possible to take a break, I also want to acknowledge that not everyone has the full opportunity for time away. When I interviewed three graduate students (Marzieh Ghiasi, Colleen MacCallum-Bridges, and Jessica Worley) about their research on mask usage to address COVID-19, I asked them how they planned to use the extra days off, and each of them were planning to use time away from classes to work on grants, papers, or abstracts.

I asked a senior faculty member today how he planned to use the break and he said, just as I would have without the days off, “I just finished grading, so next week I get ready for next semester’s courses.” Our clinics will be open next week, and a large number of clinicians and staff will be seeing patients in our COVID-19 filled hospitals and clinics. Another group of our staff, faculty and students will continue working to keep experiments going, care for animals, and ensure the safety of our people; and our resident physicians will continue to shoulder the loads they have been carrying all pandemic.

It makes me tired just to write that last paragraph, and although I cannot shut down for the whole time, I plan to hunker down for a chunk of these days. I have a few things on my list:

  • My son is in town, and he is always good for a maker-project of some kind.
  • I will make sure I exercise and sleep, which should not count as hobbies, but have you looked at the world in the last couple of years?
  • I’ll get some time with vaccinated, boostered, tested family.
  • I know it is time to start thinking about starting seedlings for the garden, because the seed catalogues are starting to arrive. And, that is a good feeling.

Back in the fall, Spectrum Hospitals and MSU agreed to a change in how academic work is supported and organized in their mutual work. Rather than have academic chairs, the system is using senior academic advisors (SAA) in their service lines to support faculty. While I like the concept of our partners including departmental structures in care systems, I also understand that many health systems have converted to service lines and want to develop academics consistent with their service lines. One unfortunate side effect of this change was to end the academic chair positions at Spectrum, and  one of those chairs is Ash Mansour, MD, who has been our chair of surgery since 2010. He has been a national leader for us and a great resource for students and faculty. His term as chair ends on December 31, and I want to thank him for his work and leadership. I am working with the faculty of the department on the appointment of an interim chair for the college. Finally, I appreciate that Ash has agreed to continuing helping students interested in Surgery. I’d appreciate you thanking Ash when you get the chance.

I also want to make sure I announce to the whole college that we have a new Community Assistant Dean (CAD) in Lansing. Dr. Jamila Power has been the lead for the emergency medicine experience of the Middle Clinical Experience at Sparrow Health System, and I am excited that she is our new CAD in Lansing. Dr. Wagner and her team did an extensive search and were delighted to recruit Dr. Power to this crucial role. I also want to thank Dr. Carol Parker for her excellent service as the interim CAD. As always, Dr. Parker steps into the breech when we need her to and does an excellent job! Please welcome Dr. Power to the CAD role and thank Dr. Parker when you get the chance.

Yesterday, there was some hopeful news about omicron out of the UK. Preliminary data suggests that in the first two weeks of infection, people who test positive for omicron are less likely to visit the hospital or be admitted than those who test positive for the delta variant. At least the preliminary data does not suggest omicron is worse than delta, but caveat emptor. The data only covers positive tests between December 1 and December 14 (two weeks), and they had to do a lot of adjustments for age and prior infection/vaccination, etc. It does look like people who have immunity do better than people without vaccination or prior infection. There is not enough data to say much about the impact of vaccination, although it looks like omicron is not any harder than delta on vaccinated people.

A larger cohort study across Scotland, not yet peer-reviewed but available here, suggests omicron could be ten times more likely than delta to cause reinfection. At the same time, those infections seem to be milder than with delta, boosters seem to work, and there appear to be fewer hospitalizations with omicron than delta. However, many more infections can still mean a total increase in hospitalizations even if the per capita hospitalization rate with omicron is lower than prior variants.

In the long run, this could be how we move from the pandemic to a more endemic state. My question, or hope, is that if we can flatten the curve in the next couple of weeks as omicron takes over, could we turn a corner toward endemic status when omicron fully outcompetes the delta variant?

That does not make the current circumstances any better. And, it certainly does not help if your family has suffered. I know that some of us have lost loved ones in the last few weeks to COVID-19. I am thinking of you and your family as are those around you in the college. We are all tired, and we still need each other.

Take care, look out for each other, encourage vaccination, get boosted, wear your mask, and after all of that, may you have a peaceful and healthy holiday break.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

Read more from the Dean's Update archive