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Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The rise in COVID-19 cases has forced Grand Rapids Public Schools to change plans for in person instruction.

GRPS has offered a hybrid option, with two days of in-person learning per week, since January.

The district was planning to expand that to four days a week after spring break, starting on April 12th.

Now those plans are changing.

Elementary and Middle schools in Kent County have been allowed to reduce their distancing requirements from six feet down to three feet.

The Kent County Health Department changed the recommendation in February as a six-week pilot.

The change also affects which students are asked to quarantine after being exposed to a positive case of COVID-19. Under the recommendation in the pilot, only students who were within three feet of the infected person for 15 minutes or more will have to quarantine.

silhouette of mom holding hands of two kids in front of sunset sky
Serjik Ahkhundov / Adobe Stock

Kent County shelters are seeing more families experiencing homelessness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Family Promise in Grand Rapids usually houses 30 to 40 families a night during the winter. This year, they're providing shelter to twice that amount. The families are staying in hotels, with many people working and going to school remotely.

The Kent County Health Department has issued a new health warning as new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

In recent weeks, Kent County has frequently had the most new daily confirmed cases of the virus of any county in the state. Health officer Adam London says more than 15% of COVID-19 tests in the county now come back positive.

“Our local infection rates have reached dangerous levels,” London said, in a release.

empty courtroom
Pixabay

Michigan's largest county is postponing jury trials until January.

Tim Kenny, chief judge at Wayne County Circuit Court, says coronavirus cases are on an "upward spiral," making it unsafe to hold trials. Trials had resumed in late September.

In the Grand Rapids area, Kent County also has halted jury trials until January. 

“It is important that we do not expose any people when our numbers are as high as they are right now,’’ Judge Mark Trusock said last week.

absentee voter envelopes and with blue and red masks on top
Tiffany Tertipes / Unsplash

Today on Stateside, it's Election Day! We spoke with the clerk of Kent County about what voting looks like in a swing district that always delivers suprises. Plus, a look back at how mass illness and social uprisings have impacted past elections.

kyo azuma / Unsplash

Stateside for Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Today on Stateside, we take a look at the troubling rise in COVID-19 cases in Kent County. Also, a conversation about Jackson County’s history as a birthplace for  Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party. Plus, we talk to two election attorneys about the possibility of contested election results after the presidential election.

Back of a school bus
Pixabay

 

Schools in Kent County reported more new COVID-19 outbreaks this week than those in any other county, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Health officials in Kent County are pleading with people to take “simple precautions” as new COVID-19 case numbers rise, and hospitals throughout West Michigan see an increase in cases.

Spectrum Health, the area’s largest hospital system, reported 81 confirmed COVID-19 patients in its hospitals as of Thursday, an increase compared to the number of patients it treated for much of the summer.

Kent County Jail

Back in January, Michigan Radio shared the story of how a man escaped prosecution after multiple families accused him of sexually abusing their kids. Shortly after we spoke to Jamie Treadwell in the fall of 2019, he broke ties with the celibate, religious brotherhood based in Chelsea, Michigan that he was a part of for decades.  

Now, another child has come forward with allegations against Treadwell. This child is a student at The Potter’s House school, where Treadwell was an artist in residence from the fall of 2015 through the fall of 2016.

The alleged abuse took place at the school in January 2016, according to court records and a press release issued by Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker. 

Cars lined up
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio NPR

Big crowds came out in Grand Rapids Thursday to get free food from Kent County Community Action.

Susan Cervantes, the Director of Kent County Community Action, says with some parents out of work and kids home from school, free food giveaways can help families stretch their dollars.  

The DEQ PFAS Investigation Map near Rockford, MI
From Google map provided by Wolverine Worldwide

Not enough people have taken a PFAS exposure assessment, says Kent County and state health officials.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human services says only 414 people have taken the study so far. Steve Kelso, with the Kent County Health Department, says they still need about 380 people to complete the assessment.

Photo courtesy of the family of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department is changing its policy on cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Photo courtesy of the family of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

Jilmar Ramos-Gomez is a U.S. citizen. Born in Grand Rapids. He served in the Marines and saw combat in Afghanistan.

And last month federal immigration authorities took him into custody to face possible deportation.

Attorneys and immigration advocates in West Michigan are now demanding to know why, and how, this happened.

downtown Grand Rapids
Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Kent County Commissioners voted today to dissolve the county’s land bank.

Officially, the vote gives the Kent County Land Bank Authority 12 months before its intergovernmental agreement with the county expires. Some county commissioners say that gives time for the Land Bank to reorganize as its own non-profit, or to renegotiate its deal with the county.

Grand Rapids Police Department station
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids Police Department updated its Youth Interactions Policy on Monday.

The previous policy was made after officers handcuffed and arrested an unarmed 11 year old black girl last December.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

A lot of old cop movies have a scene like this one, in Die Hard -- where the feds show up and start bossing local police around.

Out in the real world, things are more complicated. Federal law enforcement can’t always just boss local law enforcement around. And that’s a key part of a big controversy happening right now in Kent County.

The controversy is about immigration enforcement.

The DEQ PFAS Investigation Map near Rockford, MI
From Google map provided by Wolverine Worldwide

Northern Kent County residents say they're eager to learn more about a new PFAS chemical exposure study.

Representatives from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Kent County Health Department talked to residents on Tuesday night about the study and how they can participate.

Attorneys speaking at meeting
Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Attorneys from the ACLU and Michigan Immigrants’ Rights Center presented a resolution to Kent County’s Board of Commissioners Thursday.

The resolution would ensure that no county resources go to helping ICE detain immigrants living in the county.  

Bill Schuette
Bill Schuette / Facebook.com

Has Attorney General Bill Schuette done enough to fight PFAS contamination in Michigan? Some people don’t think so.

Tracy Breihof, a Belmont resident who lives near the Wolverine Worldwide House Street PFAS dump site, spoke at an event on Wednesday organized by the Michigan Democratic Party. She says PFAS doesn’t seem to be a priority for Schuette.

tyson and sparks together in red and blue dress
Courtesy of Monica Sparks

There's a unique story playing out in West Michigan politics. Twin sisters are both running for seats on the Kent County Board of Commissioners for opposing parties.

Since they live in different districts, they could end up serving on the board together, but on opposite sides of the aisle.

Jessica Ann Tyson is a Republican. Her twin sister, Monica Sparks, is a Democrat.

Emergency room hospital
Pixabay

There are few moments more stressful than witnessing your child in the grips of a mental health crisis.

In Kent County, parents who are in the middle of that situation can turn to the Children's Crisis Response Team operated by network180, the community mental health authority in Kent County.

Andrew Boekestein manages the team made up of mental health clinicians. He spoke with Stateside about the need for more services for kids experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Site for Sustainable Business Park
Kent County Department of Public Works

As population increases so does waste, filling up landfills at a faster rate. One solution to this problem is to rethink the old ways of managing solid waste.

The Kent County Department of Public Works is doing just that.

The County has decided to take land designated for a future landfill and use it instead for a "sustainable business park." The park will house companies and technology that reuse, repurpose, or convert solid waste, generating economic development while saving landfill space.

Shredded dollar
TaxCredits.net / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The community mental health provider in Kent County wants the state to expedite the process of figuring out how to adequately fund its mental health programs.

Scott Gillman, the CEO and Executive Director of Network 180, the community mental health authority in Kent County, says that people switching to the state’s Healthy Michigan program is the cause for the lack of funds.

Network 180 lost about $9.7 million over the last two years because several people switched from having Disabled, Aged and Blind status on their insurance to the Healthy Michigan program.

Recycling symbol
Alan Levine / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Kent County is closing its recycling facility temporarily. But this is a good thing in the long run, according to the Department of Public Works.

Kristen Weiland, marketing and communications director with the Kent County Department of Public Works, says the facility is shutting down so the county can install new equipment.

Recyclign bin in Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Kent County Department of Public Works met with community members Tuesday night to gather feedback on sustainable waste management plans.

Currently, the county recycles only 10% of its waste. The rest ends up in landfills.

Recycling symbol
Alan Levine / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Kent County wants community input on a plan to recycle more of its waste.

The Kent County Department of Public Works says 75 percent of its waste can be recycled into usable products, but it currently only recycles about 10 percent.

The department wants to build a business park that would help reduce the amount of waste in county facilities while helping emerging businesses save money on raw materials.

Peeling lead paint.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Lead poisoning in Kent County is up nearly 31% from 2014 to 2016.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 615 children in the county had elevated blood-lead levels last year.

Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, a non-profit that tries to help children stay healthy by avoiding harmful housing conditions, says drinking water isn't the cause for the increase in Kent County, but lead-based paint is.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that the city of Grand Rapids must release recordings in connection with the crash of former Kent County assistant prosecutor Josh Kuiper.

The recordings are phone conversations between police officers who investigated the crash. In those conversations, officers appear to be trying to avoid arresting the prosecutor for drunk driving. 

Two Grand Rapids area nonprofits will use new grant money to help supply affordable housing.

The grants came from Project Reinvest: Neighborhoods, a program of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit NeighborWorks America. It awarded a $500,000 grant to both Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and LINC Up. 

NeighborWorks America is a coalition of public and private partners that want to create affordable housing for communities throughout the country.

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