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Coronavirus surges among Michigan teens as school nears. Blame partying

With school reopenings fast approaching, coronavirus infections among Michigan youths are rising faster than all other ages, prompting worry among parents, public health officials and school leaders.

 

Health officials blame the surge in infections of those 19 and younger on graduation parties and other gatherings that don’t adhere to social distancing. The uptick comes as a national study found nearly 100,000 children across the country became infected in the last two weeks of July.

“This young generation is not taking this as seriously as we would like,” said Dr. Russell Faust, medical director of the Oakland County health division, where graduation parties and other events have sparked outbreaks.

With school about to start, he said, “it could be a problem.”

Consider: 

  • In the last week, the number of infections among those 10 to 19 years old has grown 15 percent, by far the highest growth in the state, double and triple the growth seen among other, older age groups which had been harder hit earlier in the pandemic. The number of children under 10 who have been infected grew nearly 11 percent, the second-highest growth rate.
  • In Macomb County, the weekly rate of infections among 15- to 19- year-olds nearly tripled from late June to August (from 28 a week to 79 a week), said Scott Turske, a spokesperson for the county health department.
  • In Oakland County, 15- to 20-year-olds comprised 2.1 percent of all infections from April 1 to June 9. Since then, they make up 15.6 percent of infections, said county epidemiologist Kaleigh Blaney.
  • As of June 1, those under 20 years old comprised just 3 percent of the 57,400 statewide cases; since then they make up just over 16 percent of cases.
 

The surge among youths comes as new cases of the virus statewide have plateaued at roughly 700 per day. Overall, the virus killed more than 6,250 Michiganders and has infected nearly 90,000, including 6,800 who are under 20.

Make no mistake, all age groups are contracting the coronavirus, but infections among youths are growing at a faster rate because older residents are taking more precautions, experts said.

The state’s epidemiologists have noticed that cases among young people have risen, said Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Many other states are reporting similar situations. We want people to know that children and young adults are not immune to COVID-19,” Wheaton wrote in an email to Bridge. “So it’s important that they practice social distancing, wear masks and wash their hands – just as it’s important for other age groups.”

The swift increase in cases is crashing against the impending start of school and teachers and school staff in many parts of the state are worried, said David Crim, a spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association which represents teachers and staff at over 560 districts.

“The general attitude of teachers and support professionals is fear and anger,” Crim said.

With many parents still clamoring for in-person instruction, or at least the choice to have it as an option, school boards have had long, contentious meetings.

But many have already opted to start the school year online, citing health concerns and the cost of keeping students, teachers and staff safe.

Younger adults and children are less likely to suffer severe complications from the virus. But experts and others said they are able to spread it to more vulnerable populations, including the elderly.

Many parts of Michigan, however, have seen relatively few cases and even within Oakland County, home to more than 1.2 million people, there are pockets  with fewer cases. 

Blaney said her office is recommending local school officials make reopening decisions based on the number of cases in their communities and a district’s ability to safely hold classes.

“There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ [solution],” Faust said.

In Macomb County, Turske said the county health department is working with school districts on plans to open or offer remote learning. He said the county has also tried to tailor social media messages to urge young people to wear masks and practice social distancing.

And Blaney said she could envision a school being safe — if students and staff followed proper protocols. What she saw on social media from grad parties and the like was anything but — few masks, no distance.

Or, as Faust put it: “Kids out doing stupid things.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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