COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As more schools look to return to in-person instruction, health officials in Kalamazoo County are telling school leaders a solid mitigation plan and sticking to that plan is the key to preventing a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Comstock Public Schools Board of Education heard a presentation from leaders at the Kalamazoo County Department of Health and Community Services Monday night.
Health Director Jim Rutherford said there are several smaller districts in the county that have been in school for several weeks and are doing quite well. The county has only seen seven positive cases in four schools since school started in August. None of those cases have resulted in community spread due to mitigation efforts in the schools.
“We talk a lot about mitigation,” Rutherford told the board. “What I always try to compare this to is driving a car. When we talk about what can I do to reduce the likelihood of being injured in a car accident or worse killed, what are the things we do and what are the mitigation things that I have as a driver? I can do things like wear my seatbelt, I can do things like obey the speed limit, obey the laws of the road. I cannot be looking at my phone. I cannot be distracted by other passengers in my car or by my GPS. Those are mitigation strategies. Those are things I can employ again to reduce the likelihood of getting in an accident. It’s very much the same when we talk about reducing the chance of getting COVID.”
Board trustees had several questions about what can be expected once more schools return to in-person learning. Kalamazoo County Epidemiologist Mary Franks warned the board they shouldn’t try to predict what will happen in K-12 schools with what is happening at universities.
“What we see in K-12 population, what all the literature shows, is that if the younger population is a household contact, say one of their parents is positive or something, that’s how they become positive. It’s typically not from interacting with other kids,” Franks said. “The data doesn’t show it’s running rampant through K-12 population. It mainly shows teachers are exposed out of work and they expose students. Not students expose teachers and the other way around.”
In Kalamazoo County, the increase in cases at Western Michigan University are not leading to an increase in cases in the community Franks says. She says once you remove the WMU cases from the county cases, it’s staying steady at under 15 new cases per day, which proves transmission is contained to the campus.
Board trustees wondered if those cases, as well as all cases in those 0 to 19 years old, could be “underreported.”
“We do know that children are typically asymptomatic carriers. They have a very mild or no disease presentation. And so, yes, it is fair to say that category is under reported, although we see a lot of our college folks are asymptomatic or have very mild disease symptoms as well,” Franks said.
Franks pointed out testing has changed since the pandemic started back in March, so they’re getting a better idea now of where the positive cases are coming from.
“The testing priorities in the beginning of this thing were so different than they are now. This has been emerging this whole time. We never seen anything like those, so at the beginning of the pandemic, if you were symptomatic, but your symptoms were mild or moderate and you didn’t need medical attention, they weren’t going to test you. They were saving those tests for the vulnerable population. There’s just so much nuance to this situation. It’s changed literally daily for months now, so it’s fair to say that every age category is underreported due to lack of widespread testing.”
Franks says it’s important for schools and families to be vigilant as flu season ramps up, saying it’s more important than ever to keep kids home if they’re sick.