CADILLAC — The new school year is underway and some districts in the Cadillac area are already dealing with issues related to COVID-19.
Angela Trucks is a parent of a Cadillac Area Public Schools student, but she also is a pediatrician working at Mackinaw Trail Pediatrics. At the most recent CAPS Board of Education meeting, Trucks addressed the school board regarding what she believes is unclear messaging when it comes to masking.
Although she said most people are aware children under 12 are not able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Trucks said they may not understand what the concept of voluntary mask-wearing hinges on.
“The whole concept of voluntary masking hinges on the assumption the vaccine has been available to the population. When you look at the population of our elementary and sixth-graders in the middle school, it is not available to them,” she said. “The concept of voluntary masking doesn’t apply to them because they don’t have access to the (COVID-19) vaccine.”
During her comments, Trucks urged the school board to rethink its message about voluntary masking. She said she would love to see the district use messaging that said masking is voluntary, but staff and students should wear masks because they care for the safety and health of each other.
She also said the district did a great job last year working to keep things as normal as possible when things were anything but that.
At the end of the day, Trucks said it is her job to advocate for her patients and in this case those patients are children.
In recently released data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services — Michigan Disease Surveillance System it showed case rate trends are highest for 10 to 19-year-olds followed by 30-39, 20-29, 40-49, and 0-9.
The data also showed the largest one-week growth among those 10 to 19 years of age. It also showed the average daily number of cases (330.7) and average daily case rate (263.5 case/mil) are highest for those aged 10-19.
The MDHHS data also showed case rate trends are increasing for those under 20. The full data can be seen here.
Although the school board didn’t respond to Trucks’ public comment, CAPS Superintendent Jennifer Brown said the district continues to partner with District Health Department No. 10 regarding preventative COVID measures.
“We will continue to have a layered approach to prevention as recommended and to strongly recommend masking indoors to our students, staff and parents,” she said.
Reed City Area Public Schools is the only local school district that has had to close down due to COVID-related absences, but nearly every district has reported staff and students testing positive for the coronavirus.
Reed City and other districts have issued suggestions as far as getting vaccinated and wearing masks indoors. CAPS’ back-to-school plan included mask-wearing being optional for grades K-12 but strongly recommended.
However, students who ride CAPS buses will have to wear masks due to a federal mandate. Handwashing and sanitizing will be encouraged and cleaning and disinfecting will be done every 24 hours. The district also has improved its ventilation in every building and includes air filtration systems.
Added COVID measures include not having required testing but having them available at the Wexford Adolescent Wellness Center. It also includes not making COVID-19 vaccination required but recommended. COVID-19 vaccines also will be available at the wellness center at no cost.
Recently, Dr. James Whelan penned a letter to District Health Department No. 10. As the medical director for the Wexford Physicians Hospital Organization, he said the point of the letter was to inform the health department that the vast majority of medical staff in the county are supportive of a mask mandate. He said similar letters were sent to school superintendents.
He also said it is understood, in the current environment, a mask mandate can put school and the health department leadership in difficult positions.
“We recognize how much controversy and frustration is coming from parents and community members for any type of mandate. Our letters recommended that both groups, schools and the health department, not shut off any mitigation strategies.”
He said the ultimate goal is to keep children safe and school open because no one would argue that being in-person is a much better learning option than virtual. He also said the PHO recognizes there is not one way to do things and there needs to be a way to find a compromise to again make sure kids can go to school safely.
DHD No. 10 Health Officer Kevin Hughes said he believes the physicians group sent the letter to put on the record its members support all mitigation efforts the health department sees fit to blunt the current surge of COVID-19 and reduce future surges. He said the letter didn’t speak to one single strategy, but several.
DHD No. 10 Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Morse also said the physicians group’s letter supported mask mandates as a tool when or if it was needed.
Outside of schools, it was reported earlier this week that overall COVID case numbers continued their update trend in Northern Michigan, with Wexford County reporting 10 over the weekend, Missaukee County reporting eight, Lake County reporting seven and Osceola County reporting 28.
Two people in Wexford County were reported to have died from COVID last week, which was the first time since mid-July that such a death had occurred in a local county.
As of last week, Wexford County was the only county within District Health Department No. 10 that wasn’t considered high risk for transmission, although the risk in Wexford still has been deemed “substantial.” Mask usage is recommended in all local counties, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“Substantial” transmission is 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or a positivity rate between 8% and 10%, and “high” transmission is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10% or higher.