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Schools in the UP, West Michigan hit hard by new outbreaks


Two universities in Michigan are now each reporting more than 1,000 cases in ongoing COVD-19 outbreaks, according to weekly data released Monday by the state health department. Meanwhile, pre-K-12 schools in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are being hit especially hard as those regions remain hot spots for the virus. 


“We did do a two-week ‘pause’ with our Houghton County schools, and...this week we're going to implement a two-week closure with our Gogebic and Ontonagon County schools,” says Cathryn Beer, health officer for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. Schools in those counties will be advised to move to virtual learning only, in hopes of reducing transmission of the virus. 

Twenty-nine new school outbreaks were reported this week, with all 107 of those cases coming from pre-K-12 schools. Finlandia University also reported an additional new outbreak of 2 students, but it’s not the first time the school has reported cases. 

This brings Michigan to a total of 4,409 outbreak-related cases at colleges and universities, plus 482 cases at pre-K-12 schools. The state considers it an “outbreak” when a school has two or more cases from different households. Schools then stay on the list of “ongoing” outbreaks so long as a new associated case has been reported in the last 28 days.

“We're seeing limited transmission within the schools, other than athletics,” Beer says. “We seem to be experiencing a lot of outbreaks with people that are involved in athletics at this point in time. The big one has been football. It's also been seen in volleyball and cross-country.”

Several schools that are offering in-person learning have taken temporary, and sometimes open-ended, “breaks” when cases climb. Beer says the measure was helpful in Houghton County, but she worries the colder weather will make it harder to drive down cases.


“We've got several inches of snow, so people don't have that ability to be out in the open fresh air.”

Meanwhile, Michigan State University continues to report the most outbreak-related cases, with 1,664 according to this week’s data. The school’s own online dashboard, which is updated more frequently, reports 1,730 cases since July 27. But cases at MSU appear to be trending in the right direction, with just 13 cases reported the week of October 19th. 


That’s a drastic decrease from the 604 reported the week of September 7, the highest MSU has seen so far. Last week, MSU announcedits plans to return to “more in-person classes” in the spring semester, which starts in January 2021, and add “approximately 2,500 additional single-occupancy residence hall spaces…”


But dorm living is posing a challenge for the University of Michigan, which is reporting 1,092 cases - a 30% jump from just last week. The county health department recently issued a “stay in place” order for undergraduates through November 3. “...[T]he university is taking the additional step of moving more of our undergraduate courses to fully remote instruction for the remainder of the semester,” the school announcedon its website October 20, while blaming social gatherings as the “main cause of the recent COVID-19 spread on campus, in the surrounding community and the broader region.”


Two U of M dorms have more than 80 cases each, and “mandatory nasal swab testing” has been instituted at two residence halls. As of today, 130 students are in isolation after receiving a positive test result, and 44% of the school’s quarantine housing is occupied.


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Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
Brad Gowland joined Michigan Radio in 2019 to help with the station's growing digital side, specializing in data collection and digital audio.
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