Michigan to identify K-12 schools with coronavirus outbreaks Sept. 14

The state of Michigan gives schools discretion on the level at which they notify families of a COVID-19 outbreak. The state will begin listing schools with two or more linked COVID-19 cases starting Sept. 14. (Shutterstock)

Michigan families will know if there are COVID-19 outbreaks at their K-12 schools beginning Sept. 14 — the first full week of school following Labor Day, a state spokeswoman told Bridge Tuesday evening.

Details were still being hammered out as officials finalized processes to pass the information from the state’s schools and local health departments to the state, said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The list will include not only the name and location of the K-12 school, but also the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at that school. 

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The news leaves several questions unanswered, including why MDHHS is not including the same information for Michigan colleges and universities, several of which have been hit hard by cases since opening in August. It’s also unclear why school outbreaks can’t be shared with the public as they are confirmed by health officials, rather than announced in weekly updates. 

Sutfin told Bridge the report will be updated each week, likely Monday, and will be found among other data on the state’s coronavirus information page, which already lists cases at nursing homes, for example, as well as a breakdown of other state data — number of cases, deaths, testing rates and the numbers of test results that are positive.


The state considers a COVID-19 “outbreak” as two or more cases “with a link by place and time indicating a shared exposure outside of a household,” Sutfin has previously said.

Sutfin cautioned that the absence of a school name from the list doesn’t mean parents, students and staff should let down their guard in following COVID-19 safety protocols. Nor does a school’s listing assign any fault for a virus outbreak, she said.

“The presence of cases at a school does not indicate that they are not following proper procedures,” such as ensuring masks are worn and students and staff are abiding by social-distancing protocols, she said.

In Michigan, notification of a school COVID-19 outbreak is merely “strongly recommended” in the state’s Return to School Roadmap, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to reopen schools, which was released June 30. 

Schools and school districts are given broad discretion on how wide a circle of people or families to notify when students or staff test positive for the virus, although public health departments are tasked with contact tracing and notifying anyone who has been in direct contact with an infected person.

MDHHS and several county and district health departments told Bridge last month they would not automatically release the names of K-12 schools, colleges or universities with COVID-19 outbreaks, citing privacy issues, the narrow focus of public health investigations in contact tracing, and a desire to avoid gossip or rumors about schools. 

On Aug. 21, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, told Bridge the state would eventually release the names of schools where there are outbreaks, but only after it was able to transform its computer system to capture that information. She said it may take weeks, however,  and did not set a firm date on when that would happen. 

Critics called for greater, more immediate transparency. Earlier Tuesday, more than 30 Michigan news and government transparency organizations delivered a letter to Whitmer urging rapid release of school-related COVID outbreak details as students and educators start the new school year. 

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Wed, 09/02/2020 - 8:01am

Why so long? That's outrageous. Also why can't we get the same testing as the president and professional athletes?

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 8:03am

Good job, press! Keep pressing. The disclosure is a government failure on the part of both the D's and the R's. No excuses.

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 10:20am

Delaying until a week AFTER the bulk of state schools start to release school covid data (available for weeks from colleges and private K-12 schools) just ensures schools start with in-person plans- this is irresponsible of the state since widespread undisclosed school outbreaks have already been reported. Shouldn't parents and school officials make informed decisions, not wait until thousands of students are exposed for a week in schools parents have been told are "safe"? I think it's a political move so they can say to parents, Well, you chose in-school option, so its your fault we have an outbreak. Then it becomes easier to sell the unpopular-yet-safer virtual option. Shame on you for risking our kids and vulnerable adults in the schools to avoid making a hard choice yourselves!

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 10:31am

I regret the lack of transparency in the handling of this information very much. It certainly could give the impression that the State government is "playing games" with the information. We have kind of gotten used to our national government playing political games with COVID-19 data for (election) purposes.
I am uncomfortable with the impression I am getting that our state administration is also manipulating the disclosure of critical pandemic facts to its citizens. One cannot help but wonder at the motivation?

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 1:52pm

It seems the governor is between a rock and a hard place. Rural districts and the city of Detroit want to be open. The other districts don't. In any case, we should be told ASAP which districts have the positive cases. No doubt they all have cases, just that many haven't been tested. Having a fever or not means nothing in and of itself.

Fact Check
Wed, 09/02/2020 - 10:53pm

ALL schools should be open.
Students and teachers are at ZERO risk.
And guess what? The new CDC data from 2 days ago shows that nearly 94% of reported coronavirus deaths were not actually coronavirus deaths - They were deaths of seriously ill people who happened to test positive for coronavirus antibodies after they died!
The "pandemic" is now a proven hoax. STOP this school shutdown nonsense.

middle of the mit
Thu, 09/03/2020 - 7:13pm

[[[[ They were deaths of seriously ill people who happened to test positive for coronavirus antibodies after they died!
The "pandemic" is now a proven hoax. STOP this school shutdown nonsense.]]]

Does this extend to the folks in the nursing homes also? They died of underlying causes.......and just happened to test positive for Covid?

If that is the case, the whole of the Republican party should apologize to the Governor. Those folks were going to die anyway, and Bridge has reported, along with other sites in MI, that those old folks don't like being alone and away from their families and they are willing to contract it.

I await your apology with bated breath. Maybe is abated breath from behind my mask?

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 1:42pm

Michigan has 891 public school districts with 3,550 schools and that’s just the public schools. Add the charters and other private schools and infection counts by school becomes a formidable data collection and reporting project.
Never attribute to malice that which can fully explained by more ordinary human failings, suggests Hanlon’s Razor. What’s likely here is that no one is attempting to hide information, but state employees weren’t up to the task of quickly capturing and reporting school infection data.

Sat, 09/12/2020 - 11:34am

Schools should be and are cooperating with health departments to report cases and help initiate contract tracing. This process involves informing faculty, staff, students and parents in real time of positive cases. Why does anyone else need this information? Why create a media frenzy? Our school was told by the Health Department "when the cases are reported expect the media to follow. You need a communications team ready!" This is a distraction our educators, students and parents do not need at this time!