A rural Michigan district has 15 COVID cases, one death, and few answers

There are 15 coronavirus cases and one death connected to Carson City-Crystal Area Schools (Shutterstock)

Carson City-Crystal Area Schools in Montcalm County was a month into face-to-face instruction this semester when officials learned of the first coronavirus case connected to the district. A staff member contacted the district last week to say she had tested positive.

One week later, the number of COVID-19 cases in this rural district of less than 900 students had jumped to 15, a 53-year-old teaching assistant was dead, and students were back to learning at home.

The rapid spread — and the death of a woman described by a county health official as otherwise healthy — is a sobering example of the difficulty schools face in trying to fend off a deadly virus that can spread just by breathing.

Carson City-Crystal has done a great job (in taking health precautions for COVID-19),” said Marcus Cheatham, health officer for the Mid-Michigan District Health Department, which covers Montcalm, Gratiot and Clinton counties. “They’ve done everything we could have wished.

“The lesson here is that even when you do your best, this disease can get out of control and it can kill people,” Cheatham said.

“The lesson here is that even when you do your best, this disease can get out of control and it can kill people.” — Marcus Cheatham, Mid-Michigan District Health Department

Cheatham confirmed that the staff member died from coronavirus last week. He did not release the woman’s name, but media reports identified her as Michelle Lynn McCrackin, a mother of five from Carson City. 

According to her obituary, McCrackin was a paraprofessional  at Carson City-Crystal Area Schools who assisted classroom teachers by working with students to improve reading and math skills. She was also the local teacher union president. 

The McCrackin family did not immediately respond to a request for comment passed to them through the Lux and Schnepp Funeral Home in Carson City on Tuesday.

Carson City-Crystal reopened schools for the fall semester on Aug. 24. The majority of students returned to classrooms for the first time since mid-March, when Michigan’s public and private schools were shuttered to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

About a quarter of the district’s students chose to continue with homebound learning, similar to how students finished the 2019-20 school year, Supt. John Sattler told a community newspaper, the Daily News, last week.

Sattler did not return a request from Bridge Michigan for comment Tuesday.

On Sept. 22, the staffer told the district she had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Cheatham of the health department. One day later, three more staff members and a student tested positive, and the school district closed its buildings and switched to fully remote learning through at least Oct. 4.

McCrackin died three days after her diagnosis.

Cheatham said there are currently no hospitalizations or other deaths connected to the outbreak among students and staff in the district. He said it’s unclear whether the woman contracted the virus through her interactions at the school, or if others contracted COVID-19 from her.

Cheatham said that while connections between the cases are not clear, he said he believes there are enough positive cases to conclude there is “community spread” in the school district.

By Tuesday afternoon, the count of confirmed coronavirus cases among students and staff at Carson City-Crystal was 15. “Don’t hold me to that,” Cheatham told Bridge Michigan in an interview. 

“By the time you print it, it will be wrong. This is changing by the hour.”

Until now, Montcalm County had not witnessed a large increase in cases in recent weeks. The past couple weeks, the seven-day average of new cases was three or four. That could be changing — there were 11 new cases reported in this county of 63,000 on Monday alone, and another 13 Tuesday.

“My world is on fire,” Cheatham said. “It feels like we’re starting to lose our grip on what’s going on, because there are so many outbreaks in so many parts of the community.”

Cheatham said the public needs to understand that just a handful of cases can bring a school district to its knees. One student who tests positive can send a 30-person classroom into quarantine for two weeks; one classroom teacher may come into close contact with numerous other teachers, forcing them all to stay home.

McCrackin’s job, for example, took her into multiple classrooms, working with numerous students at different grade levels.

The countywide career center for technical education has also closed for in-person instruction for now, Cheatham said, because some Carson City-Crystal students attend the center.

“There are probably hundreds of students quarantined” in the district, Cheatham said. “They have no staff or students to fill their classrooms. And then you have secondary spread to family members.”

Across Michigan, there were 46 K-12 schools with new or ongoing coronavirus outbreaks as of last Thursday, according to a state report released Monday. But Cheatham said those reports are a significant undercount of schools impacted by the virus.

He said that “well over half” of school districts in his three-county health district have coronavirus cases and had to quarantine students who had close contact with infected people. The state report only includes schools with “outbreaks,” which are defined as two or more cases connected in time and place to the same source of infection. If one student tests positive and a whole classroom is quarantined at home for a week, that school is not disclosed in the state report.

That may soon change for K-12 schools. On Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an order that requires Michigan schools to directly publish notification of coronavirus cases, starting Oct. 7. Details of where that information will be published, and how often, have not yet been released. As written, the order applies to all confirmed coronavirus cases, not just those defined as outbreaks.

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What a plan
Tue, 09/29/2020 - 7:07pm

So this is how it's going to go? Open the schools so the kids can get socialized, then when they sufficiently socialize enough people with the virus....we close down for a few weeks and then what? Get ready to do it all over again?

This isn't a plan. It's not acting on what should be done because there is one party that refuses to see what is happening.

Why close down at all? Get it over with.

That is the GOP plan that they won't tell anyone about and the Press won't report.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 2:21pm

I think it is more of Queen Whitmer's plan. We shouldn't close it down. There are plenty of examples in other states that keep their schools open even if they get cases.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 6:04pm

I know and socialize superfially just to go back into isolation?

Tue, 09/29/2020 - 8:58pm

Wouldn’t “doing your best” include keeping schools virtual until the virus counts dropped? That poor woman will never get her life back. How will her death impact her kids’ ability to learn. This is an example of why face to face isn’t always the best way to educakids.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:36am

The problem is that these trump sheep go to one of his hate rallies and get infected and then brin back the virus to their families!!!

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:45am

Again, thank you CCP for the gift that keeps on giving! :( I have to ask, were the students and teachers wearing approved mask's and keeping their hands clean? What was the cause of death of the Aid,,and other illness she may have had? Carson City is a wonderful area, but I would bet most did not wear mask's.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:49am

So close to home. We are reminded how lethal and insidious this disease is. Thank you to our strong governor for her relentless pursuit of all of us in Michigan, this is serious.

Paul Schultz
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:55am

One death? 100 bucks says that more people died in car accidents during the same time period in this "rural community".

My family and I just drove all the way across the country and back for a camping trip. We didn't wear masks. Less than half of the people we saw anywhere in any state were wearing masks. Everyone is fine. CDC numbers already revealed that more than 90% of these supposed "coronavirus deaths" had a minimum of 2 *other* serious health conditions. Coronavirus is a giant hoax designed to make our lives horrible and try and force us to behave like serfs. We absolutely reject this. You can put masks on our dead bodies after we live long, healthy lives, whether or not we contract coo-coovid!

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:38am

Please contact the family and friends of the woman who died to inform her of this "fact." IF you read the article, you will note that she had no underlying conditions, yet she died of the "hoax." You can then contact the families and friends of the over 204,000 who have died and inform them that heir loved ones are, apparently, alive somewhere as they could not possibly have died of a "hoax." . In the mean time, please be a brave person and put your money where your mouth is -- volunteer at hospitals, schools, colleges, bars, nursing homes, funeral homes, etc. to help those who are sick/have died due to the "hoax." Be sure not to wear a mask. Then perhaps you will get sick or pass it on to someone you love. If you or a loved one gets sick/dies, it quickly stops being a "hoax."

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 4:14pm

This is a prime example of the misinformation and pure stupidity that keeps getting people infected. And you freely admitted not wearing a mask across the country and back.... Now consider every single person that you were within 6 ft of. Every thing you touched. Every building you entered. And if you were infected?!... You could have spread it across the entirety of the country in a matter of days and not even knew you were infected for up to 14 days! Your right to be an inconsiderate piece of trade does not overrule my right to live! And by the way, there were no car accident deaths in this community on that day as far as I know, nor the immediate days before and after. An idiot like you that makes a stop in a community like this, not wearing a mask and infected could bring it to a standstill because you are a dumpster supporting arrogant prick! Your comment was needless, unsympathetic, and not remotely productive. The teacher was otherwise healthy in her early 50's and died within days of diagnosis. Did you even read the article!? I hope you catch this "hoax" and it hits you so fast you don't see your death coming. I'd say you should suffer but then that would just keep you spreading your ignorance and disease longer.

Maggie Mae
Fri, 10/02/2020 - 7:33am

When you actually do your research and fact check things instead of assuming main stream media is almighty God you find out this woman had MANY health issues and yes she died WITH covid but not FROM covid. All others are asymptomatic, so are they false positives? Her death is tragic, as any death is but this just feeds the fear in our society. This is not even close to good journalism and I am very disappointed and angry. Prayers for her family, prayers people start looking into stories that are spread around.

Fri, 10/02/2020 - 10:01am

Research - Mr Trump has contracted the "hoax."

Fri, 10/02/2020 - 10:01am

Research - Mr Trump has contracted the "hoax."

Craig Reynolds
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 9:31pm

Well, I actually do research, which often makes me wonder what sources some people use for their unannotated claims and subsequent howlings about the media. Here's the result of my research on Ms. McCrackin's untimely death in your unsourced postulation about "underlying conditioons". By the way, note that this clip denotes five deaths from Covid, but only four of the victims prior to Ms. McCrackin's demise had any "underlying symptoms". From the October 11 edition of The Daily News for Montcalm and Ionia Counties: "Montcalm County has now had five COVID-related deaths since March, with a total of 284 positive cases as of Friday (with more than 50 of those cases added since mid-September). The previous four deaths all involved elderly people with “significant” health issues, according to Montcalm County Emergency Services Director Eric Smith."

jan d
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 9:54am

Your quote says four previous involved elderly....significant health issues... It doesn't say if this person who passed away had significant (or not) health issues. You cannot deduce that this person had no other health issues from the article in The Daily News. I know of a gentleman who passed away from covid who had no other significant health issues. His large family, church friends and many others did not even test positive for covid. That tells me we don't know why some people get it and do not survive while others either don't get it or don't have any health consequences. To say wearing masks is going to take care of the problem is too much of a stretch. It seems reasonable to me that if you have health issues you would stay away from other people and wear a mask when in public if you want to be "safe". Common sense says that you should always keep your hands clean, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay away from people who appear to have a cough or sniffles. Sharing opinions and ideas is helpful. Blaming something or someone is not.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 6:04pm

Yes, because protecting the vulnerable should not be an objective of a well functioning society...
Borrowing your comparison, know that when you choose not to wear a seat belt, it increases your risk. But, when you choose not to wear a mask, it increases the risk of others. This is all about prevention. I don't understand why wearing a mask makes your life horrible. I suppose you could have major allergies? Otherwise, there are countries that are essentially back to "normal". I can't understand why there are countries like Taiwan that freaked out about 70(?) deaths with SARS1, so implemented systems to keep their SARS2 deaths to 7. Meanwhile, we're shrugging at 200k+ and that's ok??
Oh, and next time you need a surgeon to perform major surgery on you or a loved one, make sure they're not wearing a mask because that's a hoax too. A surgeon has no need to protect themselves from a patient's disease... nuance is not important here.

I call BS
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 6:08pm

Okay, pay up! There have been 211,624 deaths in the US to date. So times $100 per death, pay $21,162,400, fool!

Fri, 10/02/2020 - 9:58am

So, Mr.Trump has contracted a "hoax?" Thanks for letting us know that information coming out of the White House is are lies and hoaxes.

Susan Miller
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:14am

As parents decide if it's best for their students to go back to in-person learning, knowing how often schools and students are quarantined is the missing piece of the analysis. The very narrow parameters that lead to a school being listed by the State do little to convey an accurate and pragmatic assessment of how in-person school is proceeding. Port Huron Norther High School was completely closed for two weeks yet it is not on the list - this seems short sighted. If the majority of schools in a region are opening with very little COVID-19 interruption, it makes sense to publicize this. If many schools in a region are quaranting swaths of students or the full school, we also need to know this.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:38am

Ah just a few lives, who cares about the old the vulnerable and the sick even if they paved the road before us and sacrificed. Wearing masks is just a bridge to far to cross for me. Stop worshiping life and start worshiping money and more importantly worship our great leader Trump 2020 and forever.

Fri, 10/02/2020 - 10:05am

The ageism that this virus has uncovered is gut-wrenching. We live in such a sick society that think over 210,000 deaths are acceptable. What has happened to this country?

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 9:40am

Most likely passed away from underlying issues as the article stated.
The Governor hasn't done anything to help - Nursing home has a worse death rate than this.
Can go fishing but can't on a boat with an engine? Come'on people and wake up.. this is all political.. Live our life - let mother nature do her job. People die everyday - YOUNG and OLD.

Victoria Long
Fri, 10/02/2020 - 1:58am

Has the schools looked to relatives working at the Carson City, Correctional Facility? At the peak of it all, the onset of it all, Carson City was one of the very few prisons with ZERO cases of Coronavirus at all. They were allowing stronger cleaners to be used, passing out additional soaps , plus the Correctional Officers were routinely cleaning the handset of telephones being used by prisoners or making sure sanitizer is available to at all times to clean handsets of phones.. I dont know if they are using same rules, but when the Governor started lifting regulations when she felt it was safe she started allowing prisoners to be transported around the state to other prisons, One being Carson City Correction Facility was picked to have about 50 prisoners transported to its facility and released to regular population. Then I heard a 2nd round of about 40 to 50 prisoners was sent to Carson City Facility again released to regular population without being quaranteened before put in with the already healthy prisoners after they were being processed and driven to CCCF the same day.
Seems like from what I heard despite Carson City Correctional Facility having taken on greater burdens then some prison with the 2 loads of additional prisoners and and the State's makeshift housing for actual Covid-19 prisoners being brought in off property but still part of Carson City Facility, despite the extra load Carson City Corrections Officers, Staff and the Prisoners had to deal with to maintain their own health & safety.( Yes Prisoners lives matter too.) They all need to be applauded, employees & prisoners from the onset of the Coronavirus for all working together to keep Covid-19 away.
I only had that word of mouth up to about a month ago, but a large facility like that kept Covid-19 away, but seems like teachers & students could take a lesson from the Employees of Carson City Correctional Facility and it's Prisoners and hopefully learn good tips how to not spread the Community with any health problems or loss of lives from the School system.
If Teachers & Students & families in the community don't feel 100% comfortable that all precautions necessary to reopen the schools the same way before the Coronavirus hit, then they need to make a stand to the Governor that she needs to assure & guarantee students, parents and employees that it is safe to open 100%. Nobody is the States or it's politicians test animals to figure out what's safe or learn by trial & error. No, no, no.. Stand your ground, if they feel all systems are not ready to reopen the schools yet. Public School teachers and staff doesn't need to be the cause of a spread any further into the Community of Carson City
or to the prison that despite all odds, when many couldn't , this prison did manage to
fight it and do what was needed to be done, The prison managed to keep ZERO virus withen their walls.
I hope the school system doesn't cause a virus outbreak to enter the prisons from relatives or friends of employees of the Prison Facility after they fought upsets that was caused by the drop offs to the prison . Prisoners lives matter too.
I can only speak on what I heard only up to about a month ago..I don't know any further.
I do hope the Prisoner Fund & the Warden of Carson City Correctional Facility make this a very special holiday season and rewards the steadfast Prisoners these year with extra special Thanks for a few special and tasty holiday meals and an abundant gift bags being also all visits to family & friends had ended when this virus started. They deserve that as do the Correctional Officers for understanding they all were in this together and stepped up too making sure phones were sanitized and other health issues addressed..all were following the rules applied to stay safe and they did. They did it together.
Governor if the Warden is showing appreciation for his staff and the prisoners too all Uniting as should be, Then I hope you acknowledge him too for huge job well done. All need Thanks in Carson City Correctional Facility, they truly deserve it.
Again I haven't heard any updates in over a month, but hearing this all about the school system really made me think if one place that was getting it right, they maintained a safe facility.