Health dept. tracking ‘substantial’ COVID-19 outbreak at East Grand Rapids HS

Kent County

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, (WOOD) — East Grand Rapids High School will switch to virtual learning at least for a short time after an outbreak of coronavirus.

The first case was confirmed about a week ago. The number of infections had grown to 24 by Friday evening, according to data listed on the district’s website.

“We are tracking to see what kinds of contract they have either in school or outside of the school that caused this outbreak,” Kent County Health Department Community Wellness Division Director Joann Hoganson said.

Many, but not all of the infected students, are on the boys varsity basketball team. Its next four games have been postponed.

In-person classes remained in session Friday, but parents learned from the district in the afternoon that classes would go virtual at least through Tuesday.

Currently, the infections appear to be limited to students. Of the symptomatic cases, none have been serious enough to require hospitalization. Still, the numbers have public health officials concerned.

“This is a very substantial outbreak. (This many) positives in this short period of time is not something we see frequently,” Hoganson said.

The health department is also testing for COVID-19 variants. Those results won’t be back for at least a week.

Wayland Union High School on Friday also announced an increase in cases. It said it will go virtual for two weeks starting Monday. Other district buildings will remain open.

At the start of the week, the state was tracking 123 coronavirus outbreaks tied to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, 29 of which had been reported in the last seven days. Updated data will be released Monday.

All of this raises the question whether the push from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and others to resume in-person learning a good idea?

“From the beginning, we said we want to make sure that kids are safe and we must look at safety in a broad construct,” said Godfrey-Lee School Superintendent Kevin Polston, who has advised the governor on education and COVID-19, including a return to in-person learning.

Polston pointed to data that suggests school outbreaks like the one in East Grand Rapids are the exception, not the rule, and also noted the effects of keeping kids at home.

“What we’ve seen is from the (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s) report back in October that mental health referrals were up 30% for school-aged children. And we’ve seen that kids really want to be engaged with their peers and their teachers in person,” Polston said.

Hoganson, who is the liaison between the Kent County Health Department local school districts, agrees.

“If we can identify quickly where the outbreaks occur and get those kids in isolation and the other students into quarantine, we’re going to try to keep as many students in school as we possibly can,” Hoganson said, also adding another reminder:

“What’s happening in East Grand Rapids now is proof that we need to be very active in trying to stop the spread,” she said. “Right now, we’re putting a lot of hope in the vaccine but we can’t let up in our other areas yet.”

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