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Virus forces school building closures

Ilsa Minor | Daily Press Above, Lemmer Elementary School’s sign can be seen with the message “Yooper Strong.” Lemmer is one of two schools in the Escanaba Area School District that will be closed until next week due to the coronavirus. COVID-19 infections have hit Lemmer and the Escanaba Junior High/Senior High particularly hard, with both students and staff getting the virus. This has led to a staff shortage and forced many students to quarantine.

ESCANABA — The Escanaba High School/Junior High and Lemmer Elementary School buildings have been closed until Nov. 2 due to an increase in COVID-19 cases locally.

Escanaba School Superintendent Dr. Coby Fletcher made the announcement in a message to parents Monday. Fletcher said the increased cases has caused a staff shortage and a growing number of quarantined students.

“With the uptick in COVID-19 cases in Delta County, our district continues to see numerous positive cases making their way into schools. While this has not significantly impacted all our buildings, we are experiencing an increase in positive cases at Lemmer Elementary and the Junior High/Senior High. This has greatly reduced staffing levels and resulted in a growing number of quarantined students in these buildings,” Fletcher said.

The school district has closed Lemmer elementary and the junior high/senior high to in-person instruction from today through Friday, Oct. 30. Face-to-face instruction will resume on Monday, Nov. 2.

“This short closure will give several staff and a large number of students time to return from quarantine and will also provide us another chance to deep clean and sanitize. Because this closure is short-term and not due to ongoing transmission on campus, athletics and extracurricular activities will continue as normal,” Fletcher said.

The closure is only to in-person instruction at Lemmer elementary and the junior high/senior high. Webster Kindergarten Center, the Upper Elementary, and the Escanaba Student Success Center are operating as usual.

Fletcher said staff from Lemmer and the junior high/senior high will be in touch with parents to provide more detail on how instruction will continue remotely. Information regarding meal pickup for interested families will be provided, as well.

“As always, we encourage our community to be vigilant in taking action to reduce the rate of spread of COVID-19 in Delta County. This, more than anything else, will help our schools return to a normal instructional routine,” Fletcher said.

The junior high/high school building was also closed to in-person instruction for two weeks earlier this school year. Students returned to in-person learning from that closure on Monday, Oct. 12.

The Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District Learning Center was also closed due to COVID-19 for a short time earlier this year for deep cleaning.

According to the state’s school-related outbreak reporting — which the state acknowledges may underreport due to a variety of factors — there is not currently an outbreak occurring at Lemmer Elementary. This may be due to the way the state defines an “outbreak.” Michigan uses the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologist definition of “Two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14-day period, who are epidemiologically linked, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.”

The definition precludes cases where, for example, siblings attend the same school or where multiple students from different classes contract the virus but have no contact with one another.

An outbreak is reported as ongoing at the Escanaba Junior/Senior High, as well as at a number of other local schools in Delta and Menominee Counties.

At the junior/senior high, 13 total cases have been reported among students and staff. The outbreak was first listed on the state’s school-reporting dashboard on Sept. 28, making it one of the earlier outbreaks on the site, which started reporting on Sept. 14. Numbers are only updated on Mondays.

Other local outbreaks include:

— Bark River-Harris School, which has had 10 infections among students and staff. The outbreak was first reported Oct. 12.

— Gladstone High School, which has had two staff infections. The outbreak was reported Oct. 12.

— Bay College, which has seen 14 confirmed cases among both students and staff. The outbreak was first reported Oct. 12.

— North Central Area Schools, which has seen three confirmed students in its student population. The outbreak was initially reported Oct. 5.

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