Parents group wants Macomb County to make school outbreak data public

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A group of Macomb County parents called on county health officials Tuesday to report specific information related to COVID-19 school outbreaks on its dashboard to allow parents to make informed decisions about sending their child to school.

Emily Mellits, a Washington Township parent and member of Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person School, sent a letter to Macomb County Health Department Director Andrew Cox urging him to report specific schools where outbreaks occur, the number of quarantined students and staff there and a breakdown of cases by grade.

She also asked the county to display the number of active COVID-19 cases in people younger than 18 years old and the number of close contacts in those cases.

Mellits says other public health agencies including the Barry-Eaton District Health Department share specific information on its websites, such as a breakdown of cases by age groups starting with ages 0-2 through 14-17. The county website also reports the number of students and staff with COVID-19 on school grounds in the past 10 days, the number of students and staff identified as close contacts, the number recommended for quarantine and the number of schools with outbreaks.

Approximately 25 people attend the Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person School rally in front of the Macomb County Health Department on Aug. 25, 2021 to ask the health department to mandate mask wearing for all Macomb County K-12 students.

"Macomb County parents have a right to know what’s happening in schools, where the COVID-19 outbreaks are, whether people are being quarantined and whether anything is being done to contain infections so they can better protect their child and decide whether to send their kids to class," Mellits said.

"The last thing Macomb County needs are more outbreaks, which is what will happen if we expose our kids to COVID-19, and they bring a highly contagious disease home and infect others in their family."

The Macomb County Health Department said in a statement it reports school-related COVID-19 information to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the information on its online dashboard.

"We fully understand and appreciate parents’ concerns regarding school COVID-19 mitigation strategies, and, along with the Macomb Intermediate School District as well as Macomb County school districts, are working to promote a safe educational environment," the statement said.

The state of Michigan provides weekly updates on COVID-19 outbreaks in individual schools, as reported by local health departments. On Monday, Michigan health officials reported 98 new COVID-19 outbreaks at K-12 schools across the state, with the majority of new cases at elementary and high schools. Lenawee County had the largest number of schools reporting outbreaks at nine while Macomb County had seven.

Lynn Sutfin, MDHHS spokesperson, said Macomb County officials are properly reporting school outbreaks to the state in their weekly situation report as required.

"They do not have to post a dashboard on their own website," Sutfin said.

Oakland County's dashboard reports cases by age group — 0-19 — and Oakland County health officials provide a weekly COVID-19 report to schools.

The county also has a public map that shows current cases by school district, not by individual school. It includes active cases of any resident who lives within the school district boundaries. It also offers a map showing vaccination coverage by ZIP code.

Wayne County reports cases by age — 0-29 — and by community but not by school district. 

Last week, Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person School launched a petition seeking a universal mask mandate for all K-12 schools, saying the statewide mandate is needed to defend children from COVID-19.