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COVID triples in Michigan K-12 schools, rises 60% at colleges in a week

Coronavirus outbreaks are spiking in Michigan schools and colleges, with a report released by the state Monday listing new or ongoing outbreaks in 28 K-12 schools and at 20 colleges and universities across the state.

 

The report, which tallies outbreaks as of Sept. 17, indicates there are now at least 2,220 COVID-19 infections linked to new or ongoing outbreaks at Michigan colleges and universities – up more than 60 percent from the 1,379 reported by the state in the week previous.

Among K-12 schools, there were 121 infections traced to new or ongoing school-related outbreaks, more than tripling the 33 reported last week.

“It’s concerning when we see more cases in schools,” said Bob Wheaton, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “The increase in school outbreaks could be the result of a number of factors – including community spread, better reporting by schools and more testing. It’s difficult to pinpoint any one cause.”

The real numbers are probably higher. State officials acknowledged last week that the totals are likely an undercount because of reporting inconsistencies and lag times that can stretch as long as 10 days between outbreak identification and state disclosure.

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A dozen of the 28 K-12 school outbreaks involve only two confirmed cases at the identified schools, the minimum required to be considered an outbreak. One school though, Luce Road Elementary in Alma, has 23 confirmed coronavirus cases among students and staff, according to the report. That school halted in-person instruction Sept. 8 after several cases were confirmed. 

There were eight cases at Novi High School in Oakland County and six cases at St. Martha’s Elementary in Okemos, in Ingham County.

Among colleges with the most infections, the report lists 694 cases at Grand Valley State University, 533 at Michigan State University, 288 at Central Michigan University, 245 at Adrian College and 151 at the University of Michigan.

You can see the state’s weekly school outbreak report here.

State health officials define a COVID-19 outbreak as two or more cases with a link by place and time indicating a shared exposure outside of a household (college residence halls, Greek houses and large shared apartments are not considered households). “New” outbreaks are those that have not been reported by the state in previous weeks; “ongoing” outbreaks are outbreaks that have been previously reported and had at least one new confirmed infection in the past 14 days.

While cases are increasing in school and college settings, hospitalizations among the state as a whole are not. Coronavirus hospitalizations are now near a low since April.

On average, young people tend to not suffer as serious of health consequences from COVID-19 as older people and those with underlying health conditions.

While schoolchildren and college students seldom become seriously ill, they can spread the potentially deadly virus to others who are more susceptible.

Monday’s release was the second week state health officials have identified schools with outbreaks following efforts by Bridge Michigan and other media outlets for public access to this information. Previously, the state released weekly reports on the number of outbreaks in schools, but did not identify the schools or the number of people infected. 

A coalition of more than 30 media and government transparency organizations wrote a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week urging more rapid disclosure of school outbreaks.

The group, calling itself the Michigan School-Related COVID Outbreak Transparency Coalition, wants Whitmer to require school districts to notify communities within 24 hours of an outbreak; increase the frequency of statewide reporting data and require universities and colleges to release more information.

As of Monday, Whitmer had not responded to the letter.

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