TRAVERSE CITY — Positive COVID-19 cases in area schools are rising.
Fifteen of the 21 confirmed and reported cases at school districts in the five-county region have been detected in the past two weeks — 12 of those in the past seven days.
The weekend saw reports of multiple cases — either directly involving a student or staff member or a school-associated case — at Kalkaska Public Schools, Glen Lake Community Schools and the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Career-Tech Center.
Northport Public Schools and Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools announced positive cases last week, and Traverse City Area Public Schools announced five new positive cases since Oct. 15.
Kalkaska Superintendent Terry Starr, following health department guidance, chose to shut down all school buildings through Tuesday while health department officials conduct contact tracing of possible exposures. Traverse City Central High School shuttered operations for two days last week after a single positive case was identified in a staff member.
Glen Lake Superintendent Jon Hoover said Monday all three fourth-grade classes and a kindergarten class have been moved to remote learning until Nov. 4 as a precaution after a staff member tested positive for the virus and a student was identified as a probable positive.
“We’re doing everything we can so we won’t see a spread,” Hoover said.
Keith Smith, superintendent at Kingsley Area Schools, expects the intermittent closures to be “the new norm.”
“These are almost like the new snow days,” Smith said. “Contact tracing takes 48 hours. It’s the responsible thing to do to give the health department that time — because the cost of the health department being wrong could be an outbreak in the schools.”
School districts in the area with zero cases listed in state-aggregated data are Alba, Bellaire, Buckley, Elk Rapids, Frankfort, Grand Traverse Academy, Mancelona and Suttons Bay. Neither Kingsley nor Leland has had a case since August, and Forest Area’s lone case was nearly a month ago.
Josh Rothwell, Forest Area superintendent, said a continued spike in cases is “a pretty realistic concern for everybody.”
“You can’t control what people do outside of school, going to birthday parties or gatherings on the weekends,” Rothwell said. “We can be as stringent as possible in the buildings, but it’s kind of out of our hands once those kids are released.”
Neil Wetherbee, Northport superintendent, said the virus coming into school buildings is an inevitability. The one positive case at Northport was thought to be COVID-19 more than a week before it was confirmed by the health department.
Wetherbee said the person in question was kept home while waiting for results of his or her test, which returned positive eight days after symptoms presented.
“All of our safety measures are to prevent the spread once it comes to school,” Wetherbee said.
Health officials across the northern Lower Michigan on Monday reported 310 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 since Friday, but no additional deaths.
Grand Traverse County now has 694 cases of the pandemic disease, an increase by 62 cases since Thursday. Other large increases since Thursday happened in Emmet County with 37 additional cases, Charlevoix County with 31, 24 cases in Roscommon County and 22 in Cheboygan County.
The 17-county region now has 2,744 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 76 reported deaths.
Additionally, the Grand Traverse County Health Department announced a possible public exposure site during the 10 a.m. service Oct. 25 at Lifepoint Bible Church on Spider Lake Road.