GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday night ordered K-12 schools ni the stat to close starting Monday, citing concerns about coronavirus.
Schools will be closed until April 6, the governor said.
The following report came earlier Thursday, before the governor’s decision:
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Belding Area Schools will be closed Friday due to possible COVID-19 exposure, the superintendent said.
Brent Noskey, the district’s superintendent, said a person who may have been exposed to the virus was in one of the building this week.
“Some have advised me to just wait and see if this person truly does have the virus, because odds are he or she does not, but I do not believe this is in the best interest of our students. As soon as I hear that this person has been cleared of COVID-19, I will let you know ASAP,” Noskey said.
K-12 schools in Kent County will continue to hold classes despite concerns about coronavirus, though administrators are taking some precautions.
“School is still in session and we plan to continue to be in session,” Kent Intermediate School District Superintendent Ron Caniff said during a Thursday afternoon press conference, speaking on behalf of all 20 public school districts in the county, plus Grand Rapids Christian and Catholic schools.
However, the following measures are being taken until further notice to mitigate any potential spread of COVID-19:
- Field trips are suspended until further notice.
- All school-sponsored travel is suspended.
- All assemblies, performances and facility rentals for events involving more than 100 people in the same room are suspended.
- Athletics events will follow MHSAA guidelines.
- Outdoor events will follow guidance from the Kent County Health Department.
- Tours of school facilities are suspended.
- Volunteers’ access to classrooms will be limited.
- Caniff added schools are tackling cleaning with more vigor and teachers are reinforcing regular hand-washing by students.
Based on guidance from local and state health officials, student groups and clubs involving fewer than 100 people can continue to meet.
The Ottawa County ISD also said Thursday it was not closing schools, though it was also taking precautions to keep everyone healthy. It said it will allow previously scheduled field trips and other travel, but consider out-of-area travel on a case-by-case basis.
Superintendents in Muskegon County have said their schools have amped up cleaning and hygiene practices, and are starting to limit large gatherings, assemblies and field trips.
‘WE’RE GOING TO FOLLOW THE SCIENCE’
“If we as a health department believed closing schools would decrease the transmission of COVID-19, we would close schools immediately. We would be the first to act,” Joann Hoganson, the director of the Kent County Health Department’s Community Wellness Division, said. “But the truth is that the data that we see from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and from other excellent science tells us that there is not a lot of benefit in closing schools in terms of transmission of this virus.”
She said closing schools can even have negative effects because it could send kids to their grandparents for care, and elderly people are at a higher risk than kids of developing severe cases of COVID-19.
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Officials were also worried about parents not having child care alternatives and kids not having access to federally assisted meal programs. School-run child care programs are not being canceled.
“We are going to follow the science,” Kent County Heath Department Administrative Health Officer Adam London said. “Right now, we believe that this is the best approach considering the data that we have.”
Health officials noted that Kent County has not had a single confirmed case of coronavirus. They said if local cases are found, they may decide to reassess what to do about schools, calling the situation “fluid.” They added they have been in contact with neighboring counties and the state about their decision to keep schools open.
“Schools are the healthiest, safest, most nurturing environments that are there for children,” Caniff said. “More harm could be caused by closing as opposed to keeping schools in session.”
Since Wednesday, a flood of Michigan colleges and universities announced they were canceling in-person classes and moving to online learning. Caniff noted colleges have a different set of circumstances to consider, namely dorm life.
WHERE CORONAVIRUS STANDS NOW IN MICHIGAN
More than 127,00 people have contracted COVID-19 worldwide, about 1,300 of whom are in the United States. It often presents with mild symptoms and most people who get it recover. However, it can be deadly, especially for older patients and those with preexisting conditions.
Michigan has confirmed three cases as of Thursday, all on the southeast side of the state.
London, the Kent County health officer, said Kent County was going to record COVID-19 cases at some point.
“There’s no reason to suspect that we’re not going to see COVID-19 everywhere around the world — we’re already seeing that,” he said. “We know there’s a huge lag in testing resources. We fully expect that because most people are going to be completely asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms that don’t require testing, that we already have it, most likely, in our community at some very low level.”
He said the state has been doing all the testing for COVID-19, and it has had a limited supply of test kids. He said the wheels were in motion to get kits to private local labs so they could test, too.
London’s primary advice to parents was to keep their any sick children home, saying they are many cases of the common cold and influenza that officials want to keep from spreading.
“Whatever we can do to keep that burden (on hospitals) at a minimum is really important,” London said.