According to letters sent home to parents at both Whitehall and Montague school districts, a student has tested positive for COVID-19 at each school in recent weeks.
On Thursday, Oct. 22, a letter was sent to Montague’s NBC Middle School parents explaining the situation. According to the letter, the district was made aware of the positive case that day, but the student had been in isolation since Wednesday, Oct. 14.
Through assistance from Public Health-Muskegon County, an investigation was conducted by Montague Area Public Schools (MAPS), and it was determined that “there are no individuals associated with the school that were considered to be in ‘close contact’ with the student.
The district told parents that measures were taken to protect students and staff, which included cleaning and disinfecting the building.
Responding to an email sent by the White Lake Beacon, superintendent Jeffrey Johnson replied, “Montague Area Public Schools will continue to engage in the highly recommended practices of the MI Safe Schools: Return to Learn Roadmap, which can be found in the district’s Preparedness and Response plan. All district COVID-19 updates and Return to Learn information can be found on the district website.
“By following these practices, MAPS will continue to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at school.”
Information found on the MAPS website shows that this is the only case the district has experienced thus far.
Not long after MAPS sent their letter home to parents, Whitehall District Schools sent out their own letter.
On Monday, Oct. 26, it was noted in their letter that a Whitehall Middle School student had tested positive for COVID-19. The letter said that this student was last in school on Thursday, Oct. 22.
The school remains open, and the letter states that Whitehall School District is working with the health department to investigate the matter.
Author of the letter, superintendent Jerry McDowell writes, “Due to our social distancing protocols and strict adherence to mask wearing in the school setting, it is likely that close contacts associated with this case will be minimal, if any.”
In a follow-up response to the White Lake Beacon, McDowell emailed, “There has been zero spread within our schools. Students do enter our buildings with outside connections to the virus.
“Our social distancing and protocols are working and have been very effective in the schools setting. We plan to continue to follow these protocols and make sure our students are able to learn in a safe environment.”
On the Whitehall School District website, it shows that the school has had four cases of people testing positive so far in the district. Two cases were confirmed at the high school, the one aforementioned case at the middle school and one at Ealy Elementary School.
In a short interview with public health director Kathy Moore, she confirmed that cases of the virus have been increasing within Muskegon County.
“You know there’s a resurgence, and we [public health] feel like, you know [sic], people have let their guards down. There’s more social activity and it’s just, I would say, they’ve let their guards down. We encourage everyone to continue the mask wearing, the distancing, the hand washing and sanitizing,” said Moore.
“I just think they have started to get comfortable in social settings again.”
She did say COVID-19 cases are lower when compared to other counties in the state. But the number of deaths is higher.
“For example, Ottawa County probably has more than double the number of cases, but we [Muskegon County] have more deaths in total,” said Moore.
She said a lot of the deaths have been related to the elderly and long-term facilities in the county. She said Muskegon County has an older population.
But many of the positive cases have been in younger people. Moore believes that younger people tend to be asymptomatic and might not be aware that they might have the virus. She also said college starting back could have also played a role.
Moore believes COVID-19 cases will continue to rise, and contact tracing will remain necessary until a vaccine is made available.