Macomb schools’ COVID-19 numbers are not what they appear to be, causing confusion

At first glance, the state’s health department’s weekly coronavirus outbreak report makes Macomb County schools look like they are teeming with infections.

The report, released Monday, shows that 484 students and school staff in Macomb County have new probable or confirmed cases of the virus linked to outbreaks or clusters during the week of October 7-14. This represents about 56% of the total new cases associated with school in Michigan that week.

Of the 101 new school groups and COVID-19 outbreaks reported statewide, about a quarter, or 25, were in Macomb County.

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It’s a county where masks aren’t mandatory for all K-12 schools, and where individual school districts make their own decisions about COVID-19 mitigation measures – even though the health department of the The state and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend universally hiding students and school staff.

Among the schools with the highest number of cases are:

  • Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, with 45 cases.
  • Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township, with 53 cases.
  • Anchor Bay High School in Fair Haven, with 33 cases.
  • Romeo High School in Washington Township, with 35 cases.
  • Romeo College in Romeo, with 30 cases.

But things are not what they appear to be, said Mike DeVault, superintendent of the Macomb Intermediate School District. In many cases, the state’s report does not match what individual school districts are reporting for COVID-19 cases.

“We’re trying to track how it has evolved and how it’s being reported,” DeVault said on Tuesday, a day before he and the 22 county district school superintendents had a two-hour meeting with the county health department to discuss the declaration of changes made. by the state.

Take, for example, Eisenhower and Stevenson High Schools in the Utica Community Schools District.

The state’s school epidemic report this week listed 53 new cases associated with school in Eisenhower – the highest number of new cases of any school in Michigan.

But the Utica District’s own COVID-19 dashboard only showed five new cases during the same period of Oct. 7-14 for Eisenhower High.

And at Stevenson High, the state report showed 45 new cases associated with the school for this week. The district has only counted 13 cases.

Utica District spokesperson Tim McAvoy said school leaders are trying to understand the gaps and why the data he collects on COVID-19 cases among students and staff is so different from which was in the state health department’s report this week. .

“We use data reported directly to our schools by families or by the health department of people who were present and who subsequently tested positive or probable for COVID-19, which can often differ from these reported figures at the level of the ‘State,’ he said.

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Chelsea Wuth, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told Free Press she was getting the data from her weekly reports on school outbreaks and groups from local health services.

The Macomb County Health Department, she said, raised no concerns about the validity of the epidemic / school group data in this week’s state report.

“We report on the basis of the information that the local health services collect and share with us,” she said. “Questions about clusters and epidemics in Macomb should be directed to the local health department.”

Macomb County Health Department Director / Andrew Cox Health Officer

Andrew Cox, director / health official for Macomb County Health Department, told Free Press the state has changed the formula for counting COVID-19 cases in schools twice in recent weeks , which creates confusion and may give the impression that the transmission is worse than it actually is.

“It looks like we have almost 500 cases that just happened last week,” Cox said. “It just isn’t true.”

Of the 484 cases listed in the Macomb County Public Schools report, only 25 were new cases reported last week, he said. Only five of the 25 outbreaks and clusters listed in the state’s report were new.

The definition of a COVID-19 outbreak associated with K-12 school was changed on September 27 to include at least three epidemiologically related cases instead of two. The state’s health department also added clusters to its reporting requirements earlier this month, Cox said.

County health departments have been urged to include clusters of coronavirus cases among people in a K-12 school setting who cannot be definitively linked, but this happened within the same 28-day time frame, a he declared.

Since this is the first week that the state’s report includes school clusters of COVID-19 as well as outbreaks, the Macomb County Health Department has included all cases in a school building over the years. Last 28 days that met the definition, not just those reported last week.

“It appears as a new outbreak on the list, but it encompasses cases prior to last week,” Cox said. “That’s not to say that last week we had 45 cases in Stevenson and 53 in Eisenhower. It’s over the cluster definition period, 28 days.

“That’s where a lot of this confusion lies.”

DeVault said Wednesday: “People are having a hard time understanding this change and what this language change means. We realize the complexity of it – trying to explain this to our moms and dads.”

DeVault said the county health department will contact the state health department on behalf of Macomb County superintendents to seek clarification and ensure the language is more understandable.

“Even if it portrays something else, 99% of children are in school,” he said.

Yet Macomb County is not alone in Michigan being urged to follow the new reporting standards. Outbreaks and clusters linked to K-12 schools in other counties have not increased as dramatically as in Macomb.

Its neighbor to the south, Wayne County, which has a county-wide K-12 school mask mandate, only reported three new outbreaks and clusters associated with the school:

  • 10 cases at All Saints Catholic School in Canton.
  • Four cases at Creative Montessori Academy in Southgate.
  • Six cases at Howe Montessori and Center Based Education in Dearborn Heights.
Signage for the use of a mask is posted at the entrance when students of Ecorse High School enter the school during the first day at Ecorse High School in Ecorse on September 7, 2021.

And its neighbor to the west, Oakland County, which also has a county-wide school mask mandate, had no new outbreaks or clusters of COVID-19 in this week’s report.

“When we saw this, we wanted to make sure the numbers were being reported accurately, and they were,” said Bill Mullan, spokesperson for Oakland County Director Dave Coulter.

The Oakland County Health Division has confirmed with the state health department that it has correctly counted epidemics and school clusters, he said.

“This represents clusters, according to state guidelines. If you took a look at each school’s websites, you would see that there are cases in the schools. There were ultimately no clusters this week. “said Mullan.

The goal of every health department, Mullan said, is to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, whether in a classroom, workplace or other public place through a multi-layered approach: getting vaccinated , wear masks and socialize.

Clusters can be a measure of the spread of the virus, “but it is not the only measure of the extent of transmission from person to person, in this case schools. … It is only ‘one of the many tools used to understand the spread of COVID in the community. “

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Cox said he couldn’t speak to how other local health departments were counting clusters and outbreaks in K-12 schools.

“I can only speak for our data in Macomb County,” Cox said. “We are fortunate to have good staff who are able to look at these numbers and report back to the state. When you get into small jurisdictions and small counties, they may not have the resources and the staff to review. that information, put it in and report it that way to the state.

Wuth acknowledged that the accuracy of the state’s weekly outbreak and school group report depends on several variables.

“The identification of clusters / epidemics is highly dependent on the depth of case investigation and participation in the case investigation process by schools and the public,” she said in a statement. e-mail to Free Press.

“It can vary widely from county to county, both in terms of participation in the case investigation process and staff capacity to reach parents and schools and establish exposure links. There will therefore be limitations in attempting to compare the amount of K-12 clusters / epidemics in all jurisdictions. “

Contact tracing is a new responsibility for principals, DeVault said. It’s not uncommon for them to get a call or email on a Sunday about a student or staff member who has tested positive for the virus. They will then have to contact trace before Monday morning, when school resumes.

For his part, Cox said the Macomb County health department is working individually with schools to reduce transmission of the virus, but will not go so far as to require masks at all K-12 schools in the county.

“Some of our schools have put on masks,” he said. “They’ve implemented different mitigation strategies, such as social distancing. Some have even gone virtual to help stop this transmission, to break this cycle of transmission. Many have done so by working directly with us, so these school districts will call us and we will give advice.

“The masks are an issue where people feel very strongly on both sides.… We are really taking an approach to working with our local school districts to listen to what they are saying and support their decision. never do a mask warrant, but at this point we don’t have a warrant or mask requirement. “

Contact Kristen Shamus: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

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