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Michigan is changing how it classifies COVID-19 outbreaks in K-12 schools

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan health officials reported 95 new COVID-19 outbreaks among its K-12 schools and universities on Monday, a number lower than last week but attributable to a new method of defining an outbreak.

Elementary students and staff continue to be the largest source of new outbreaks, according to the data, with 44 elementary schools across the state reporting new outbreaks of three or more cases.

Last month, state health officials changed how they identify and classify outbreaks in K-12 schools, using a new standard of three cases or 10% of students or staff.  The previous definition — in place until Sept. 27 — had a lower outbreak definition threshold, requiring two or more COVID-19 cases associated with a school. 

The largest number of new cases per school were reported at Western Middle School in Auburn, where officials said there were 13 students and staff who tested positive Public Schools of Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw in Calumet where 13 students had positive tests.

Northern Michigan University reported a new outbreak on Monday with four cases involving undergraduate students.

The largest outbreak at colleges on the state's list was at the University of Michigan, with 506 cases involving students and staff. Northwood University, a private school in Midland, has had 47 cases involving students since Sept. 13.   

Michigan State University was not on the state's list, but MSU's COVID-19 dashboard shows 387 cases since Aug. 1. Cases have been steadily declining since a high of 135 cases were announced during the week of Sept. 6. The school said it had 38 new cases in the last week.

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told The Detroit News last month she has not reported MSU's case numbers to the state health department because she has not received information from the university about where infected students contracted the disease. To be considered a school-related outbreak, she'd have to determine that the transmission happened on school grounds among members of different households, she said. 

UM's COVID-19 dashboard shows a similar trend of steadily declining cases, with a high of 195 cases during the week of Aug. 29. The state reported 55 cases during the last week.

Last week, Michigan health officials reported 106 new COVID-19 outbreaks at K-12 schools across the state. Outbreaks had grown each week for four straight weeks since classes resumed until the state health department changed the way it defines an outbreak.

On Monday, Michigan added 8,704 cases and 62 deaths from COVID-19, including cases from Saturday and Sunday.

The latest figures from the state Department of Health and Human Services push the overall totals to 1,039,337 cases and 21,139 deaths since the virus was first detected in the state in March 2020.