By Ron Feench, Bridge Magazine
The number of schools and colleges with outbreaks, and the number of cases, continues to rise in Michigan. Coronavirus cases connected to outbreaks in Michigan’s K-12 schools and colleges jumped 26 percent in a week, according to a state report released Monday.
As of Oct. 8, there were 4,921 confirmed COVID-19 cases connected to new or ongoing outbreaks at 31 colleges in the state. There were an additional 346 cases linked to outbreaks in 68 K-12 schools.
The number of schools and colleges with outbreaks is up from the previous week, as are the number of cases, paralleling an increase in coronavirus cases statewide in recent weeks.
Cases continued to rise at some of the state’s largest universities. Michigan State University has 1,531 cases connected to outbreaks (1,420 last week); followed by 903 at Grand Valley State University (879 the prior week); and 636 at the University of Michigan (up from 535).
The report lists 655 cases at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and 113 at Ferris State University in Big Rapids.
The number of cases in Michigan’s K-12 schools continues to be comparatively low. Just 68 school buildings among the roughly 4,000 buildings in the state have a new or ongoing coronavirus outbreak, with the vast majority of those outbreaks involving five or fewer students or staff.
Schools have undertaken extensive safety protocols to try to limit the spread of the potentially deadly virus, and a state health department emergency order requires students and staff to wear masks.
Schools work with local health departments to contact-trace and quarantine students and staff who’ve had close contact with someone who is infected. Some schools that have opened for in-person instruction have switched back to remote learning when there are outbreaks.
The tallies in the weekly outbreak reports are an undercount of the total COVID-19 cases in schools, because only cases tied to outbreaks are included.
State health officials define an outbreak as two or more cases tied to a place and time; students and staff members who health officials determine contracted the virus outside of school or school activities – for example, from other family members – are not included. The reports also could disclose outbreaks as much as 10 days after they are first identified.
Parents and community members should have more real-time information on coronavirus cases in K-12 schools now. As of Monday, schools are required to disclose on their websites all COVID-19 cases within 24 hours of notification of the cases by local health departments.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had faced criticism for initially declining to identify schools with COVID-19 outbreaks as students returned for the fall semester.
Following reporting by Bridge Michigan and other news outlets, and a letter from a coalition of news and government transparency advocates, the state began to list schools with outbreaks earlier in September on a weekly basis.
The coalition, known as the Michigan School-Related COVID Outbreak Transparency Coalition, which includes Bridge Michigan, BridgeDetroit and The Center for Michigan, among dozens of groups, pressed the state to notify families and their communities more immediately.
In a spot check of school websites Monday, it appeared districts were following the mandate. Grand Blanc Community Schools has a running tally of new and cumulative cases at each of its school buildings, as does Midland Community Schools.
Traverse City Area Public Schools posts letters announcing confirmed cases; Battle Creek Public Schools will have a pop-up notification on its website when the district has new cases, and is developing a landing page with tallies of cases for individual schools. Kent Intermediate School District has a real-time tally of cases at schools across the county.