COVID-19 Update: Ishpeming schools switching to remote learning

MARQUETTE — Ishpeming Public Schools is moving all students to remote learning from Friday through Jan. 28, Superintendent Carrie Meyer announced on Wednesday.

“Due to the high number of absenteeism with both students and staff, this has become a necessity,” Meyer said in a letter to the district.

She noted that students would be educated on remote-learning expectations today.

Remote learning, she said, will be performed differently than the 2020-21 school year. Because of state requirements, IPS must run its remote-learning day identical to its normal school day.

“All students must log onto their Zoom and/or Google Classroom for the entire day for each teacher,” Meyer said. “Classroom work will be done for the majority of the day. If a student misses any part of a class, they will miss a great deal of learning.”

She asked parents to make “every effort” to accommodate their child’s learning needs during this time.

Students were expected to have Chromebooks to take home by the end of today providing they do not already have a device of their own.

Beginning today, all athletic practices and events are canceled until schools return to in-person learning on Jan. 31.

“On behalf of the Ishpeming Public School District, I would like to thank you for working together as a team with our district, and for continuing to do what’s right,” Meyer said.

NMU president addresses campus

In a Wednesday letter to students, faculty and staff, Northern Michigan University interim President Kerri Schuiling provided updates related to pandemic protocols, testing and the university’s mask distribution.

Schuiling pointed out that the Marquette County Health Department announced it is changing its contact tracing approach due to case volume and the recent update to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isolation and quarantine guidelines, and is moving away from individual case investigations to a focus on outbreak investigations.

MCHD will use only the Patient Education Genius software to contact individuals who are reported as positive cases. Members of the public are asked to follow the new CDC isolation and quarantine guidelines, she said.

Two charts on the SafeOnCampus website, found at nmu.edu/safe-on-campus/, answer questions about current CDC and NMU pandemic protocols, Schuiling said. These can be found on the “Important Documents” page and throughout the site. NMU has a chart of the university’s most current protocols, which is updated as changes are made.

Schuiling said NMU’s isolation/quarantine capacity is 26 rooms in Spooner Hall and 25 rooms in Spalding Hall, noting there is an agreement with a local hotel for potential rooms if needed.

NMU’s highest isolation/quarantine occupancy this year was 13 individuals last week, she said, with five currently in Spooner Hall.

Schuiling said anyone who was unable to pick up a set of KN95 masks during the mask distribution period should go to the NMU Police Department to get the masks, and will need their Wildcat ID card or NMU identification number. All NMU students, faculty and staff must wear a KN95, N95 or KF94 mask when inside a Northern facility, unless they have received an approved mask modification from Disability Services for students or Human Resources for employees. Upcoming replacement mask distribution dates will be announced soon.

Schuiling acknowledged that questions have been raised about KN95 masks.

N95, KN95 and KF94 are similar styles of a medical-grade mask with the difference being where the masks are made and certified. The N95 mask is certified in the United States by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health for use in health care settings. The KN95 mask is produced primarily in China and, therefore, is certified in China, whereas the KF94 is produced in South Korea. All three types have protective rates in the mid-90% range.

NMU ordered KN95 masks with the performance standard GB 2626-2019, which Schuiling pointed out are approved under standards used in other countries or jurisdictions that are similar to NIOSH-Approved N95 filtering face-piece respirators. They are five-ply, come from a reputable vendor and have the proper product standard performance coding on each box.

Schuiling said NMU has staff members who are certified to fit-test N95 masks provided to NMU. The masks distributed to the general campus are KN95 masks and do not require fit testing.

NMU began its weekly required random COVID-19 surveillance testing on Monday, and was to test again on Wednesday, she said. These PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, swab tests take about 10 minutes to administer and are sent to a lab for processing. Those who were tested on Monday were to have received their results via email on Wednesday if their test was negative. Those who were tested on Wednesday should get their results Friday if their test was negative.

If a test is positive, a member of the NMU Health Center’s medical staff will contact the individual via phone to review the next steps, she said.

Schuiling said that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s authority to require large employers to mandate vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 testing. However, the ruling does not stop state occupational safety agencies from implementing these mandates.

“At this time, we’ve not heard that MIOSHA intends to mandate testing,” she said. “Northern’s testing program is not impacted by the Supreme Court decision. NMU will continue the random testing described above. We appreciate your cooperation if you are selected to be tested.”

NMU’s Center for Rural Health is bringing three Upper Peninsula universities together to “Fight the Flu” for a second year, she said. Finlandia, which won last year, Michigan Tech and NMU are competing to see which university can get the highest percentage of its total population vaccinated against the flu. Students, faculty and staff who have received their flu vaccination through their university need not self-report as their school will provide those numbers.

Individuals who receive their flu vaccination from their personal primary care provider, their pharmacy, health department or at a community-sponsored event are encouraged to anonymously self-report at nmu.edu/ruralhealth/fight-the-flu.

“Although we have been focusing on masks, please don’t forget to keep washing your hands,” Schuiling said. “That, too, is an important part of battling not only COVID, but also influenza and colds.”

Schuiling gave a “big shout-out and sincere thank you” to Mike Bath, chief of police and director of safety, and Cindy Paavola, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives, for organizing the mask distribution.

She also thanked the volunteers who worked shifts to assure everyone on campus received their KN95 masks.

Anyone with COVID-related questions is asked to send them to SafeOnCampus@nmu.edu.

Businesses struggle,

survey says

Michigan’s small businesses continue to struggle with workforce shortages, inflation and supply chain disruptions, according to a new survey released on Wednesday by the Small Business Association of Michigan.

“Small business owners continue to face one obstacle after another, nearly two years after the onset of the pandemic,” SBAM President and CEO Brian Calley said in a statement. “After dealing with closures and restrictions, there is a new set of significant challenges small business owners face. Workforce shortages, inflation and supply chain disruptions are prevalent issues that have the ability to jeopardize their success.”

Survey respondents overwhelmingly identified workforce shortages (56%), inflation (56%) and supply chain disruptions (59%) as the biggest problems facing their businesses. Sixty-six percent of small businesses said it’s harder to find and keep staff. To combat that challenge, 70% of businesses are increasing wages to attract and maintain employees.

The survey of 600 Michigan small businesses, conducted Jan. 10-17, also revealed that:

≤ 35% of small businesses have experienced a decrease in their workforce size, with 12% seeing a decrease of more than 20%.

≤ 75% of small businesses have seen the cost of compensation increase in the past year.

≤ 67% of small businesses have social distancing protocols in place for employees.

≤ 87% of small businesses are experiencing higher costs than before the pandemic, including 43% that report costs are substantially higher.

≤ 14% of small businesses are still feeling pessimistic about the long-term survival of their business, slightly down from 16% in September.

≤ 33% of small businesses have flexible hybrid systems in place allowing for a mixture of remote and in-person work.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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