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14 schools report outbreaks of virus, state health department says

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

State health officials confirmed Thursday that 14 coronavirus outbreaks have been reported at schools this month in southern and eastern Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has been gathering case counts in schools including K-12 sites and universities, spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said in an email.

Through Aug. 6, “there were 14 outbreaks in this setting reported by local health departments,” she wrote.

State health officials confirmed Thursday that 14 coronavirus outbreaks have been reported at schools this month in southern and eastern Michigan.

The department did not disclose numbers or identify the school districts associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, which Sutfin said were reported in four of eight state regions:

  • One in Region 1, which covers Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston and Shiawassee counties
  • Two in Region 2 North, which includes Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties;
  • Eight in Region 2 South, which includes Monroe, Washtenaw and Wayne counties
  • Three in Region 3, which includes Alcona, Arenac, Bay, Genesee, Gladwin, Huron, Iosco, Lapeer, Midland, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Saginaw, Sanilac and Tuscola counties.

“Health departments will work closely with schools to make sure anyone who is at risk of exposure is notified and the proper procedures are in place,” Sutfin said. “Parents whose children are at risk would always be notified.”

She added that “infectious disease outbreaks are not commonly announced to the media, unless there is broad risk to the general public and all people exposed cannot be notified.”

The report comes as questions remain for school leaders about the upcoming academic year amid the pandemic and how to manage fall classes  either online, in person or some hybrid option.

Region 1 is home to Michigan State University, which this week announced it would conduct classes online only for undergraduates, two weeks before fall classes are to start. Students in graduate programs or participating in athletics are exempt.

This month, the University of Michigan announced students planning to return for the fall semester must commit themselves to 14 days of "enhanced social distance at home" before returning to the Ann Arbor campus. Those living in the residence halls and apartments must take and pass a COVID-19 test.

The Wayne County Community College District announced Thursday  that it is moving most of its fall classes online due to concerns over the virus.

Albion College also has restrictions, including tracking students and prohibiting travel

The Detroit Public Schools Community District, where three students attending summer classes tested positive for COVID-19, approved a reopening plan last month that supports smaller in-person classes and daily safety protocols including cleanings, mask-wearing and social distancing.

Some teachers, labor leaders and community members have criticized the measure, arguing resuming in-person instruction is unsafe. Detroit teachers on Wednesday authorized a safety strike over concerns about reopening school buildings in the state's largest district.

Also this week, Notre Dame Preparatory and Marist Academy, a private Catholic school in Pontiac, opened to nearly 950 students with policies on masks and other safety measures. It is among the first wave of Michigan K-12 schools returning for face-to-face instruction five days a week, compared to many public schools offering hybrid or online-only classes.

On Monday, the Michigan House voted to send bills that allow school districts to decide whether to reopen to in-person instruction amid the pandemic to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to sign them despite opposition from some administrators.

The bills require districts to reconfirm their plans for using in-person instruction, virtual learning or some combination every 30 days. They also impose requirements for benchmark testing and tracking "interaction rates" between teachers and students who do online learning.

Meanwhile, the state health department said it plans to publish outbreak data, including those involving schools, “at a regional level in the near future,” Sutfin said. 

The data is expected to be published weekly at the state’s website, she said.

Michigan recorded 19 additional deaths and 419 coronavirus cases Thursday. The deaths include 11 identified during a delayed records review, the state said.

Health officials said the state's overall case tally reached 94,697 and the death count hit 6,368. When probable cases are included, the death tally is 6,618 and cases total 104,091, according to MDHHS.

In the past seven days, the state added 95 deaths and 3,740 cases due to the virus. Of those infected, the statewide fatality rate dropped from 9.5% in June to 6.7% as of Thursday. The infection rate felled from 7.5% at the start of August.