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COVID outbreaks spiking in Michigan K-12 schools and colleges

Coronavirus cases linked to outbreaks at Michigan colleges surged 72 percent in one week, surpassing 3,800 cases in a report state officials say is likely an undercount of the total cases linked to campuses.

Meanwhile, the number of Michigan K-12 schools with confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks jumped 64 percent in one week, from 28 schools in last week’s report, to 46 this week.


The report, which you can see here, includes data collected by local health departments though Sept. 24. It lists both new outbreaks (first identified by health officials in the previous seven days) and ongoing outbreaks (outbreaks which were previously reported and had at least one new case linked to it in the past 14 days).

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Children and young adults generally are believed to be less likely to suffer serious health issues from contracting COVID-19. Still, since young people can spread coronavirus to more vulnerable family and friends even if they are showing no signs of the illness, Monday’s numbers are sobering:

  • 23 separate college campuses with outbreaks totaling 3,826 cases, up from 2,220 cases at 20 colleges a week earlier.
  • There were 199 coronavirus cases involving K-12 students and staff in 46 Michigan school buildings, a sharp increase from 121 cases in 28 buildings a week earlier.
  • There were 1,379 college cases two weeks ago. The total rose by more than 800 the following week, and another 1,600 this week.
  • Cases in K-12 schools have gone up six-fold in two weeks — from 33 cases two weeks ago, to 199 in Monday’s report.

There are coronavirus outbreaks in K-12 schools across the state, from a Catholic school in Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula to a middle school in Gibraltar near Ohio. Most of the outbreaks are small, ranging from two to six cases among students or staff. 

One exception: Luce Road Elementary in Alma, in mid-Michigan, has 31 coronavirus cases involving both students and staff, according to the report.

Among colleges, Michigan State University has the most COVID cases connected to new or ongoing outbreaks, at 1,295; Grand Valley State University has 811; Western Michigan University, 452; Central Michigan University, 320; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, 295, and Adrian College, 251. There are two cases on the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team and two more on the women’s lacrosse team, and five cases on an unidentified sports team at Michigan Tech.

Asked by Bridge Michigan what the message should be to the public about the surge in coronavirus cases in college and schools, Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, offered the advice health officials have given the public for months:

“The most effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask (covering mouth and nose); practice social distancing (maintaining a distance of six feet apart); frequent handwashing (using soap for 20 seconds or hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol); and following capacity restrictions of social gatherings.

“We urge Michiganders not to let their guards down and to follow those precautions at school, work, the grocery store and any other venue where they come in contact with others,” Sutfin said in an email.

Under the current reporting system, state disclosure of outbreaks can be as much as 10 days after cases are identified. That may soon change for K-12 schools. On Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Michigan schools to publish notification of coronavirus cases directly, starting Oct. 7. Details of where that information will be published, and how often, haven’t been released yet.

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