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Some U.P. districts close buildings temporarily

By Journal Staff

MARQUETTE — Several Upper Peninsula school districts have closed their buildings due to a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases over the last week.

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department announced in a press release that all Houghton County school districts will close for two weeks beginning on Monday. Students will shift to online learning with in-person classes resuming on Monday, Oct. 12.

According to the release, Houghton County has been hit with 125 new cases and 29 probable cases in the last week. The temporary closures only apply to the nine school districts in Houghton County, which include the Adams Township School District, Chassell Township Schools, Dollar Bay-Tamarack City Area Schools, Elm River Township School, Hancock Public Schools, Houghton-Portage Township School District, Lake Linden-Hubbell Public Schools, Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium and Keweenaw and Stanton Township Public Schools.

The closures do not apply to school districts in Baraga, Gogebic, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, according to the release.

“The capacity of our local healthcare and public health system has been stretched think by the steady increase of COVID-19 cases in Houghton County,” WUPHD health officer Kate Beer said in the release. “The positive test rate for Houghton County has risen from 0.6 percent at the end of August to 5.1 percent as of Sept. 21. This pause allows us to work with the schools and other community partners to review and strengthen mitigation efforts as we move forward with the school year. The goal is to slow the spread so that local resources are not overwhelmed.”

Michigan Technological University remains open for in-person learning and currently sits at Level Three of its five-level Health and Safety plan, which allows mixed-modality learning and requires face coverings for students and staff. Buildings operate under normal conditions, group sizes are limited and symptom tracking on campus is required daily.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports 45 active cases at MTU, listing 31 of those as off campus.

Houghton County currently has 159 active positive and probable cases as of Thursday. Of the county’s 337 total cases, 63 of those are considered recovered. The county has recorded just one death.

Cases have also spiked in Delta County this week which caused Escanaba Area Public Schools to shut its doors on Escanaba Junior and Senior High School beginning Friday through Oct. 9, due to a case of ongoing transmission of COVID-19 among students.

According to a letter sent to families from EAPS superintendent Dr. Coby Fletcher, the closure only affects the Junior/Senior High building and all other schools will continue to operate as usual. Junior/Senior High students will switch to virtual learning.

“A high County Level Risk Determination combined with ongoing transmission is one of the circumstances that triggers the closure of a campus to students,” Fletcher said in the letter. “While a closure is something we all hoped to avoid, we are fortunate to have the necessary resources to continue to hold school virtually as we take the measures necessary to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 among our students and staff. Their health and safety is foremost in our minds.”

Nearby in Menominee County, the Hannahville Indian School closed on Friday after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. The school district shut its doors to allow for a deep clean of the campus, and a decision was made early Friday afternoon to keep the school closed through Friday, Oct. 9 with in-person classes resuming on Monday, Oct. 12, according to a letter sent to parents and guardians from superintendent Matthew Johnson-Reeves. Reeves cited a high number of students and staff being required to quarantine as the reason for the two-week closure. Remote learning will take place for the time being.

As of Thursday, Delta County has recorded 302 lab confirmed cases of COVID-19 including 47 probable cases. 131 of those cases are considered recovered. Menominee County has recorded 314 coronavirus cases and also 47 probable cases, with 230 of those considered recovered. Delta County has recorded seven deaths while Menominee has recorded one.

In Marquette County, Marquette Area Public Schools reports six COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, including four students and two employees.

Five of those cases are considered active. Two of those cases were identified at Superior Hills Elementary School last week, causing the building to close through Sept. 29 as recommended by the Marquette County Health Department. All other MAPS buildings remain open.

MDHHS listed two new cases for Northern Michigan University as of last Monday, bringing the school’s total to 58 total positive cases, 10 of which are considered active. Seven of those active cases are considered to be off campus.

For the latest school-related outbreak data, visit www.Michigan.gov/coronavirus.

Potential Exposure Sites in Mackinac County

The LMAS District Health Department has identified multiple possible COVID-19 exposure sites in Mackinac County from Sept. 16 to Sept. 22, according to a release from the department sent out on Thursday.

Shepler’s Ferry was determined to be a potential exposure site on Wednesday, Sept. 16. Travelers who rode the ferry’s top deck on its 3 p.m. journey from Mackinac Island to Mackinaw City, along with those in the lower cabin of the vessel on the voyage from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island at 5:30 are advised to monitor for symptoms.

Five potential exposure sites were also listed on Mackinac Island, including Kilwin’s on Thursday, Sept. 17 from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Friday, Sept. 18 from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Broken Spoke or Horn’s on Sunday, Sept. 20 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., Kilwin’s on Monday, Sept. 21 from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Gatehouse on Tuesday, Sept. 22 from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

LMAS says each business is cooperating fully and are following all COVID-19 precautions.

“If you were present at any of these locations during the dates and times noted, and develop COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days of the date of exposure, please contact your Primary Care Provider or your local Health Department for further instruction, or you may call LMAS at 906-643-1100,” the release states.

MDHHS weighs in on

Halloween Trick-or-Treating

and Celebration Recommendations

The Michigan State Police sent out a press release Thursday highlighting guidelines put forth by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) for trick-or-treating and celebrating Halloween this year.

“The way we celebrate Halloween in Michigan will be different this year due to COVID-19,” state chief medical executive and chief deputy for health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in the release. “However, there are still many ways to celebrate safely. The guidance MDHHS issued (today) provides tips for trick-or-treaters and their parents along with homeowners who wish to hand out treats.”

Simple tips MDHHS recommends are to stay home if you’re feeling sick, maintain six-foot social distancing, wear a face covering that covers the mouth and nose and frequently wash your hands or use hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.

Parents are advised to share with their children that this year will be different than the last, but let them know of the new ways you plan on celebrating and having fun during the holiday.

Parents should also talk to their children to go over six-foot social distancing from those not in your personal bubble.

Other recommended tips include one-way trick-or-treating, trick-or-treating with the people you live with, avoiding congregating in groups around houses, only going to houses with safety measures in place and wearing a face mask to cover both your mouth and nose.

MDHHS advises that a mask from a Halloween costume is not a substitute for a cloth mask, and to not wear both a costume mask and a cloth mask if it causes difficulty breathing. A Halloween-themed cloth mask is a great alternative otherwise.

For those who wish to still hand out candy to trick-or-treaters this year, homeowners are recommended to use duct tape to mark six-foot lines within your property that lead to your front door, positioning a distribution table between yourself and trick-or-treaters, distributing candy on a disinfected table to avoid direct contact, consider handing out candy in an open space where social distancing is possible rather than the front door, or consider a neighborhood costume parade, which is an easy way to keep a safe space between children.

For those planning on hosting in-person gatherings, it should be limited to 10 people or less per Executive Order 2020-176. Social distancing should be maintained at the gathering, cloth masks should be worn and food and party favors should be set out individually to prevent cross contamination.

As an alternative to in-person Halloween parties, MDHHS recommends hosting virtual events.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also laid out a set of Halloween guidelines this week. The CDC considers trick-or-treating to be a high-risk activity and offers alternative activities to consider as well as safety tips if parents and children choose to trick-or-treat.

To view MDHHS’ Halloween guidelines, visit www.Michigan.gov. For the CDC’s guidelines, visit www.CDC.gov.

For fun and creative ideas to celebrate Halloween in a safe and responsible manner this year, visit www.Halloween2020.org.

October Virtual Job Fair to Address Shortage of Direct Care Workers During COVID-19

The Michigan Department of Health and Human ServicesAging and Adult Services Agency recently partnered with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to host a virtual job fair for Southeast Michigan employers to address a shortage of direct care workers as a result of COVID-19, according to a press release from the Michigan State Police.

“The pandemic has worsened the existing shortage and created significant staffing demands for licensed long-term care organizations throughout Michigan,” the release states. “Support for home health agencies is needed more than ever. The virtual job fair allows home health agencies the opportunity to highlight their organizations’ mission and vision, summarize current job opportunities, post a video about their organization and talk with job seekers in a virtual platform.”

Michigan has a direct care worker shortage of 34,000 according to Dr. Alexis Travis, MDHHS senior deputy director at Aging and Adult Services Agency.

The virtual job fair is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. to Noon. Home health agencies looking to hire can sign up for a virtual booth for free with a deadline of Oct. 13, and job seekers can sign up for the event at bit.ly/BrazenConnectMI.

For the latest information and data on COVID-19 in Michigan, visit www.Michigan.gov/coronavirus.

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