K-12 Schools Lead Michigan in COVID Outbreak Sites
- By Matt Jones
- March 26, 2021
According to data recently released by the state of Michigan, K-12 schools are the leading site of COVID outbreaks in the state. New outbreaks at 63 schools across the state were reported for the week ending March 19. Michigan overall has seen a surge of positive cases in recent weeks; officials confirmed about 4,500 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, March 24—the highest daily total since Dec. 15.
However, state and school officials caution that these statistics can be misleading. K-12 schools may have taken the top spot from nursing homes and assisted living facilities as the source of new COVID cases. But many residents of the latter group have begun receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, for which children aren’t yet eligible. K-12 schools are also required to report positive cases to the state, and testing has increased dramatically as students prepare to return to in-person learning.
“The classroom environment itself has not been a strong signal for outbreaks,” said state epidemiologist Sarah Lyon-Callo. “It tends to be more the activities associated with schools, including sports, but not limited to sports.” She credits the school-related outbreaks to spread in the wider community.
Bedford Public Schools Superintendent Carl Schultz temporarily halted in-person learning at the district’s middle and high schools after about a dozen students reported testing positive. Even he posits that classroom-based transmissions play a small role in the recent uptick.
“Obviously, there is some in-school transmission, but a great majority of what we found from the beginning of the school year has been the students transmitting to their very close friends,” he said. “In most of these cases, in doing the contact tracing, it really goes back to positive family members, not necessarily sitting in a class and having somebody that’s positive near them.”
John Barkel, principal at Grand Rapids Christian Elementary School in Grand Rapids, sent a letter to the school community this week urging caution during Spring Break and Easter-related travel. However, he encouraged communication, common sense, and health procedures like mask-wearing and social distancing, not cancelling plans entirely.
“We want to stay healthy and safe, but also balancing that with enjoying life and some of these normal things, like seeing family,” he said. “I think as long as people are taking it seriously and are really following the safety protocols, that many of us know so well, we can be confident that we’re going to be healthy…Finding that balance between what is cautions enough and not cautious can be really challenging, and I just want to applaud parents for making some tough decisions.”