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School outbreak numbers nearly double: 924 new cases reported

Belmont Tower at MSU
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
MSU saw a 162% increase in cases over the past week.

More than 900 students and staff members have been added to the growing list of COVID-19 outbreaks in Michigan’s schools, according to state data released on Monday. And college students account for almost 95% of all school outbreak cases.

It’s only the second week the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has released information about which schools are reporting new and ongoing outbreaks, but the case counts have risen sharply. Last week, a total of 1,412 cases were reported, with college students accounting for the majority.

Now that statewide number has surged to 2,336 cases, many of which are part of “ongoing” outbreaks, which the state defines as “those that had already been identified in previous weeks but have had at least one new associated case reported to the local health department in the last 28 days.”

While Grand Valley State University holds the current record with 694 cases among students (up from 438 last week, a 58% jump), the biggest surge is at Michigan State University, which is now reporting 533 cases. That’s up from 203 cases last week, a 162% increase.

The college outbreaks have alarmed local public health officials. In Ottawa County, the health department has issued a “Staying in Place” order for GVSU students through October 1, in which students aren’t allowed to return to their home address unless it’s an emergency, but they are allowed to go to class, pick up food and medications, get physical activity in groups of two, and in some cases, go to work or athletics practice. GVSU is also offering $200 to students who complete health self-assessments every day.

Meanwhile, the Ingham County health department has instituted mandatory quarantines for 39 large houses where students have been exposed to COVID-19. Twenty five of those houses are sororities or fraternities.

“Ingham County has the highest COVID-19 risk in the entire state of Michigan,” health officer Linda Vail said in a press release last week. “We are truly in a crisis situation, especially in East Lansing. We must do all we can to contain the outbreak.”

According to that press release:

“The city of East Lansing has experienced a 315 percent increase in total case count since September 1. This upsurge in cases is driven almost entirely by an outbreak among MSU students which directly accounts for 80 percent of all new cases. Currently, there are 252 cases of COVID-19 per million people in Ingham County. This rate exceeds the state’s maximum indicator threshold for risk to the community. The threshold for ‘very high risk’ on the MI Safe Start Map is 70 cases per million, a threshold Ingham County has surpassed by 360 percent.”

Meanwhile, three more colleges have also joined the list this week: Western Michigan University with 29 cases, Madonna University (five cases) and Northern Michigan University (two cases).

Preschools through high schools account for just 121 of the cases reported by the state on Monday. Some suspended in-person classes for two weeks, like St. Martha’s in Okemos, which had eight cases. That’s according to the school; MDHHS is reporting just six cases.

“We remain absolutely committed to providing in-person classroom instruction during this 2020-2021 school year,” principal Andrea Patton said in a note posted to the school’s website. “The children need to be in school. And we will do everything we can to keep them and everyone safe, while providing our students an outstanding education.”

Meanwhile, Luce Road Early Childhood Learning Center – part of Alma Public Schools – is listed as having 23 cases, which would be the most of any elementary school. That’s up from six cases last week, according to MDHHS data. But APS Superintendent Donalynn Ingersoll said in an email Monday evening that those are not the numbers she’s received from the Mid-Michigan District Health Department. Ingersoll says she's been informed that the school has 11 cases, not 23, and that she is waiting to hear back from the local health department. 

Editor's note: this post has been changed to correct the name of Luce Road Early Childhood Learning Center, which was originally listed as Luce Road Elementary. The name of Alma Public Schools Superintendent has also been corrected to Donalynn Ingersoll, not Donna Ingersoll. 

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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.
Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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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