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Michigan schools ordered to publicly disclose COVID-19 cases

An empty classroom
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
O.k., o.k., we know this one is empty, but some high school students in the Detroit Public Schools say their classroom are far from empty.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has ordered all Michigan public and private K-12 schools to publicly notify their school communities about probable and confirmed school-associated cases of COVID-19. 

This has to happen within 24 hours of the local health department alerting a school to a COVID case that is connected to school property or school events "under circumstances that may result in the transmission or contraction of COVID-19 during their infectious period," according to the emergency orderissued Tuesday by MDHHS Director Robert Gordon.

The order requires the school to post the notice prominently on its website, and it encourages schools to provide information about the measures they have in place to prevent the spread of COVID.

Under the order, local health departments must notify schools of a school-associated case of COVID within 24 hours of the local health department's learning of it. And the local health department still has the responsibility of directly notifying individuals who are, or are suspected to have been, a close contact of a school-associated case.

"Recent outbreaks throughout the country demonstrate that COVID-19 can spread quickly in the school setting," said Gordon in a press release. "Timely communication from schools to parents, guardians, students, teachers, staff and other persons affiliated with schools enables members of the school community to take measures to help prevent the spread of the virus."

Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, supports the order.

"It's a well thought out process in terms of involving local health departments, the local health departments notifying the schools, the schools taking action to notify those impacted in their broader communities," said Spadafore. "Overall it seems to be something doable, and something quite frankly, most of our members, if not all, that have had experience with COVID cases were already doing a lot of."

Spadafore said transparency and timely reporting are key to maintaining the trust necessary to run a school district.

"Just because a school has a case does not mean that they are not following their procedures," said Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for MDHHS. "Also if a school does not have a case, that is not an indication that you can relax your guard. We really want people to still take the precautions that we have available to us and ensure that they are consistently wearing a mask, that they are social distancing, that they are washing their hands often, and that if they are not feeling well, they are staying home."

The MDHHS order is set to take effect on Monday, October 12. It follows an executive order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer that laid out COVID case disclosure requirements for schools and was scheduled to take effect on October 5. However, a recent opinion of the Michigan Supreme Court cast doubt on Whitmer's authority to issue her previous executive orders.


Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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