CARSON CITY, Mich. (WOOD) — Health officials confirmed to News 8 that a paraprofessional from Carson City-Crystal Area Schools died of COVID-19.

“This happened so suddenly. It was a real shock to everyone,” Marcus Cheatham, health officer with the Mid-Michigan District Health Department, said.

Cheatham declined to reveal the name of the woman who died, but News 8 has confirmed that it was Michelle McCrackin, who was 53 and had no known pre-existing conditions. 

According to her obituary, the mother of five worked as a paraprofessional and Title I teacher in the Carson City district. 

Cheatham said the death of an otherwise healthy individual shows just how dangerous the virus is. 

“it’s killing people,” Cheatham said. “And it’s spreading like wildfire throughout the Montcalm County community.”

There are now 15 positive COVID-19 cases in the rural school district of 900 students. At least 13 staff members have been quarantined and the district has switched to virtual learning.

Cheatham said it’s imperative that people protect themselves by wearing masks and practicing 6-feet social distancing. When asked if people are heeding the warnings, Cheatham said, “half are, half are not.” 

As News 8 reported Monday, McCrackin’s death certificate lists her causes of death as respiratory failure, cardiac arrest and bilateral pneumonia, but makes no mention of COVID-19.

However, state health officials told News 8 Wednesday that as long as the individual had a confirmed positive COVID-19 test within 30 days of their death, and the manner of death was listed as “natural,” COVID-19 does not necessarily have to be on the death certificate for the local health department to report it to the state as a COVID-19 death. 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has also said previously that physicians fill out death certificates based on their medical opinions and that those opinions can, and often do, differ from doctor to doctor.    

News 8 reached out to the physician who signed McCrackin’s death certificate, Dr. Rashmi Juneja, to ask about the exclusion of COVID-19 on the death record. She did not respond to requests for comment. Sparrow Carson Hospital, where McCrackin died and Juneja is listed as a “hospitalist,” also declined to comment due to patient privacy laws. 

News 8 also contacted the superintendent for Carson City -Crystal Area Schools, but did not hear back. 

In a statement, Mid-Michigan District Health Department Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Morse said the health department could not provide any information about the Friday death of a woman in her 50s due to COVID, including her name.

Morse did confirm that the death met at least one of the following criteria to label it as associated with the virus: “…Individuals who had a confirmed COVID-19 infection and are classified as deceased during the case investigation OR have COVID-19 indicated as a cause of death on their death certificate OR die within 30 days of COVID-19 infection and their manner of death is listed as natural.”

Morse called the woman who died a “loved family member, vital coworker, and community member that will be missed by those that knew her.”