What information is available about COVID-19 in Michigan schools?

What information is available about COVID-19 in Michigan schools?
Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 28, 2020

If you are a parent or teacher, do you have the right to know if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your child’s school? What information can you find or learn?

7 Action News took a look at what information will be available at the local, county, and state levels.

At the local level, there are varied policies. School districts decide what to communicate with students and staff. Some schools may only notify those known to be in close contact with someone sick, perhaps in a shared class. Many may notify more to prevent rumors and unnecessary fear.

“School districts should be saying right now what their policies are going to be,” said Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs.

The Michigan Education Association says teachers in some districts are concerned about a lack of transparency when it comes to what will be shared. They are calling for every school board to publish what it will be communicating and how so leaders are accountable to the public.

Counties have been sharing data on how many COVID cases there are, case rates, the demographics, and zip codes of the sick on their health department websites.

Most don’t specifically address school outbreaks.

“The defining factor for us on sharing public information is whether we can reach people individually that we determine are most at risk,” said Susan Ringler Cerniglia, MPH, the Public Information Officer at the Washtenaw County Health Department.

She says they do it this way to protect privacy and prevent unnecessary fear. The health departments will be working closely with schools whenever there is a case of COVID-19 in a district. It will also be providing contact tracers to contact people potentially impacted.

“If there were some sort of an event at a school, or associated with a school, where there might have been broad exposure, then the health department would share that,” she said.

“It is a fine line between being transparent and giving people information to make decisions and then providing too much information to overwhelm people,” said Kayleigh Blaney, and Epidemiologist with the Oakland County Health Department.

Blaney says the health department focuses on information that helps assess risk. To help with that when it comes to schools since schools are a microcosm of their community, Oakland County has created a map of COVID-19 case rates in school district boundaries.

“It is very important to look holistically at everyone in that community that is a case of Covid and look at it by district,” said Blaney.

On the state’s COVID-19 dashboard it lists the number of current school-related outbreaks by region. It does not provide details on whether they are in an elementary, secondary, or college level school.

Some have asked whether the state will provide a list of schools impacted, similar to the lists provided on cases in nursing homes. Proponents say it allows the public to look for patterns. Do certain school policies lead to more cases? Opponents say it could leave people miscalculating risk, without greater perspective and information.

WXYZ reached out to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to find out where things stand in the state’s plan to expand the information provided on COVID-19 in schools.

“MDHHS is dedicated to providing COVID-19 data to Michiganders that is timely and accurate. We are working on a process to collect more detailed information on school outbreaks in the coming weeks and will report this information once it is validated,” we were told in a statement.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.