Health official: Virus cases to occur as schools reopen

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Health Department says cases of COVID-19 in schools are inevitable as some return to classroom learning.

“Schools are taking as many steps as they can to keep those kids with their masks on and distanced in the classroom and lunchroom and things like that. But we’re going to see cases because people are back together,” Kent County Health Department Epidemiologist Brian Hartl told News 8.

Hartl’s insight is in response to a Grandville Public Schools staff member testing positive after attending the first day of school Monday.

Parents of students under the person’s supervision have been notified.

Hartl says the health department is working closely with districts that have implemented in-person learning plans and will assist with contact tracing as needed.

There’s no specific threshold the department is asking districts to follow that would trigger a change in current plans.

“We don’t set a standard, you know, this many cases or this percentage of cases. We basically work with the schools on a case-by-case basis to work through that situation,” Hartl explained. “The decision to close down school, decision to go completely virtual is up to the schools.”

Every district offering in-person learning has spent the last few months planning and implementing precautions to prevent cases, with guidance from respective health departments, but Hartl says it’s realistic to expect infections.

He said cutting down on a potential outbreak is what people should remain focused on.

“Lately, we haven’t seen a lot of deaths or a lot of hospitalizations due to COVID-19. There’s always that potential and I think that’s what we have to keep in mind going forward, is, you know, there may be young college-age students, younger elementary school kids who aren’t going to be impacted greatly by COVID-19. But there’s the potential to bring infection to other people who are vulnerable,” Hartl said.

The epidemiologist added people’s personal threshold for ignoring illness symptoms should remain lower than usual to prevent large exposures to the virus inadvertently.

“We just need to be careful and think twice,” Hartl urged. “Staying home from school a couple of days, staying home from work a couple of days when you have those mild symptoms is what we need to do right now.”