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What role are Michigan schools playing in spread of COVID-19?

Many Metro Detroit school districts return to remote learning

With many school districts in Metro Detroit and across the state of Michigan returning to remote learning, others have recently sent their students back to school.

Parents have been left to wonder what’s driving the vastly different decisions.

It’s a great example of a situation where one size doesn’t fit all. While masks are mandated in all Michigan schools, some have different abilities to reduce the spread of COVID-19 with smaller classes, more space, and better ventilation.

Parents, administrators, and community members want to know what role schools are playing in Michigan’s COVID-19 spike. While it’s abundantly clear that colleges have generated a high number of cases across the country, it’s not as simple for younger grades.

There have been outbreaks -- defined as two or more connected COVID-19 cases in people not of the same household -- in Michigan schools. Many have objected to the term “outbreak,” but essentially, it involves schools where transmission is documented or highly probable.

Michigan’s school outbreak list doesn’t include schools with students or staff members who have tested positive but haven’t appeared to spread the virus to others.

That’s a much more common scenario, which suggests the safety precautions are working in many districts. But experts don’t know how many asymptomatic cases are spreading.

Students have found younger children are more likely to be asymptomatic than adults. Without regularly testing students and staff members who don’t have symptoms, it’s impossible to know how often children are silently spreading COVID-19.

As the number of cases rises in a given community, the same can be expected for the schools in that community. As COVID-19 spreads more rapidly statewide, it’s reasonable to expect we will reach a level of spread in which in-person schooling is no longer practical.

School districts are trying to balance the desires of parents to have children in school and the fact that students learn better in person. Different districts have different risk tolerance and resources to reduce risk, which is why decisions shave been left up to local leaders.


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