Michigan will begin identifying K-12 schools that have coronavirus outbreaks beginning on September 14, a state spokesperson told BridgeMI on Tuesday.
Up to this point, the state has been confirming the regions in which the outbreaks are occurring, but have not provided more specific information, such as the specific school districts in which the outbreaks are located.
The new information will include the name, location, and number of confirmed cases at the school, BridgeMI reported. There are currently 14 different outbreaks in Michigan connected to K-12 schools, colleges or universities, the outlet said.
The expanded information will be updated weekly, most likely on Monday, and will be found among the state’s wider coronavirus data information breakdown, Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told BridgeMI.
Stufin has previously said that an outbreak is defined as two or more cases “with a link by place and time indicating a shared exposure outside of a household,” according to BridgeMI. She warned on Tuesday that an outbreak at a school does not necessarily reflect on that school’s precautions.
“The presence of cases at a school does not indicate that they are not following proper procedures,” she said
Reporting an outbreak at a school to a local health official is merely “strongly recommended,” according to the state’s Return to School Roadmap, although collecting the contact information of those who may have been in close contact with an infected student is required. More than 30 Michigan news and government transparency agencies have called on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to urge rapid release of information about school-linked coronavirus outbreaks, BridgeMI said.
This is not the first time the state has hesitated to publish information on coronavirus outbreaks. Michigan was previously heavily criticized for failing to publish detailed information about coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Until mid-June, Michigan was just one of three states not publishing information about coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes, according to information from the AARP. Ninety-eight percent of nursing facilities in Michigan reported the number of confirmed cases in their facilities to the state during June 3 and June 10, with the state publishing the information for the first time shortly thereafter.
That information is now available on the state’s coronavirus website and is frequently updated.
Michigan’s decision to publish school-related coronavirus outbreak information follows both state and county health departments saying they would not automatically release identifying information about schools with outbreaks so as to avoid privacy issues and rumors about schools, as well as to offset the narrow focus of public health investigations, according to BridgeMI. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, also told the outlet in late August that the state’s computer system would need to be updated first, but did not provide a timeline at the time.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter at The Michigan Star and Star News Digital Media. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]