The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services confirmed 14 school-related outbreaks of COVID-19. The MDHHS did not provide the specific locations of the outbreaks, saying that “infectious disease outbreaks are not commonly announced to the media, unless there is broad risk to the general public and all people exposed cannot be notified.”
An outbreak, in this case, is generally considered to mean two or more cases with a common source of exposure. It is unknown how many cases are connected to the 14 outbreaks.
In a statement, Lynn Sutfin of the MDHHS said, “As of August 6, there were 14 outbreaks in this setting reported by local health departments - 1 in Region 1; 8 in Region 2S; 2 in Region 2N; and 3 in Region 3. (Region information is available on the MDHHS website.)”
The statement went on to say:
Health departments investigate many different types of infectious disease outbreaks, including before COVID, and it is common public health practice to focus on who is actually at risk of a disease because they are a close contact, and to notify those who are at risk. Health departments will work closely with schools to make sure anyone who is at risk of exposure is notified and the proper procedures are in place. Parents whose children are at risk would always be notified.
Susan Ringler-Cerniglia is with the Washtenaw County Health Department. She says the MDHHS’ decision to not share the details of the outbreaks is pretty par for the course. She also says that COVID-19 is mostly spread through close person-to-person contact, which makes it difficult to tell whether the general public has been exposed to a particular person who tests positive.
“Testing’s been a big challenge, so we can’t be sure we’ve identified all the cases, and cases are simply in most or all locations. So there’s risk of exposure anytime you’re out and interacting,” she says.
Ringler-Cerniglia says the Washtenaw County Health Department is working closely with schools to identify outbreaks and make sure contact tracing can happen in schools.
“Because with COVID, we’re talking about that close, person to person contact, it’s not believed that like, walking through a space after someone that was potentially infectious was there is a likely exposure,” she says.