Michigan health department tells school districts to post all COVID data online

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a podium.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a press conference on September 2, 2020 (Courtesy of the State of Michigan)

Schools must notify their communities of all COVID cases linked to their schools, Michigan’s top health official ruled Tuesday.

The order effectively replaces a virtually identical one from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after the Michigan Supreme Court nullified her executive orders last week. Like the mask requirement issued yesterday by the Department of Health and Human Services, the new coronavirus reporting order stems from a different legal authority than the one at issue in the court’s recent decision.

“Recent outbreaks throughout the country demonstrate that COVID can spread quickly in the school setting,” said Robert Gordon, director of  the state DHHS. “Timely communication from schools to parents, guardians, students, teachers, staff and other persons affiliated with schools enables members of the school community to take measures to prevent spread of the virus.”

Michigan has faced criticism in recent weeks for a lack of transparency around coronavirus cases in schools. The state has reported dozens of cases in schools, but cases were left off the list if they didn’t meet the definition of an outbreak, and some of the reported data may have been as much as a week old.

Under the new orders from the Department of Health and Human Services, local health departments must report all new cases linked to schools within 24 hours. Schools are required to post information about the cases in a prominent place on their websites within 24 hours of learning about them. The state will continue posting weekly updates on school outbreaks on its website

Cases must be reported if they affect “students, teachers, staff members, coaches, volunteers, or any other person who was present on school property or at a school function under circumstances that may result in the transmission or contraction of COVID during their infectious period,” according to the order. 

The order takes effect at 8 a.m. on October 12.

A coalition of news organizations called the Michigan School-Related COVID Outbreak Transparency Coalition has pressed the state to keep the public better informed about coronavirus cases in schools.

“Are schools/health departments really going to deny parents and educators this information?” Lisa McGraw, spokesperson for the Michigan Press Association, which is part of the coalition, said in a statement.

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