TRAVERSE CITY — Some school district officials in northern Michigan are preparing for extended closures as COVID-19 cases rise in their buildings.
The positivity rate tallied in recent waves of testing continues to trend in the wrong direction, and Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner cautioned board of education trustees Monday that the district is nearing shutdowns that could last a week or two — or possibly longer.
The positivity rate is the percentage of people tested for COVID-19 who receive positive results.
VanWagoner said a 10-percent positivity rate within the district or a building could result in closing down face-to-face instruction for an extended period of time. He stopped short of putting a benchmark in place, adding that there is no exact figure that would trigger an automatic shutdown.
VanWagoner will reconvene the board to consider options if the district reaches 10 percent. Any district closure would be looked at weekly.
“We’re not at that point yet, but we’re getting kind of close,” he said.
VanWagoner reported Monday the positivity rate at the beginning of the year was approximately 2 percent. The rate has since climbed to nearly 9 percent within the district.
TCAPS officials reported seven positive cases in the previous two days, four Sunday and three Monday.
Two of the seven cases were confirmed at Traverse City West Senior High School. The others were at Central High School, Eastern Elementary, West Middle as well as the Boardman Administration Building and the transportation and food service building.
The district total now stands at 20 positive cases for the school year.
“It’s definitely been moving in a bad direction,” VanWagoner said.
Although the board of education meeting Monday was at the administration building, VanWagoner said the exposure was a week ago and all individuals who were in contact with the infected person have been asked to quarantine and were not at the meeting.
District officials have been informed of another likely positive case at West High School, but that has yet to be confirmed by the Grand Traverse County Health Department. West High School students will continue remote learning Tuesday to allow health department officials to complete contact tracing of any individuals potentially exposed to the infected person.
VanWagoner estimated about 200 staff members and students are quarantined, but he said that number is “fluctuating every day.”
“I am nervous. I’m nervous about where we’re going,” VanWagoner said.
A silver lining seems to be that most of the transmission is happening outside of school walls, which is a trend area health officials have confirmed in the previous week.
VanWagoner said there have not been any outbreaks within a single class even as more single cases are being confirmed in the same buildings. District officials are speaking with the health department daily to monitor transmission.
VanWagoner worries a depleted teaching staff could effectively shutdown instruction altogether for some classes. Ludington Area Schools has 33 staff members quarantined. Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools has 23 staff members out. VanWagoner said the district’s transportation staff has also been hit hard by quarantine restrictions.
“If we hit that number (10 percent), we will run out of staff,” he said. “Climbing at that rate, the number of substitutes we need won’t be available — and we’re almost there, right now.”
TCAPS is not the only school district experiencing a rapid rise in cases.
Although no school districts made the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ list of new coronavirus school outbreaks, West and Central high schools as well as East Middle would have been named had the cases been reported Friday.
Suttons Bay Public Schools, Benzie Country Central Schools and Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools remain on the list of ongoing outbreaks, but those outbreaks seem to have leveled off. Benzie still is at 14 total cases, Frankfort at eight and Suttons Bay at two.
Frankfort high school and middle school will stay closed until Nov. 13. No cases have been reported at the elementary school.
Glen Lake Community Schools reported a positive COVID-19 case, and Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District confirmed a school-associated case at the Career-Tech Center.
Elk Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Julie Brown informed families of two cases, one at Mill Creek Elementary and another at Lakeland Elementary.
Nine students remain in quarantine at Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools after positive tests at Immaculate Conception Elementary School and St. Francis High School. Twenty-nine GTACS students had been in quarantine as of late last week.