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Barry County schools raise awareness about protecting against novel coronavirus

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer activated this State Emergency Operations Center on Friday, Feb. 28, to “maximize coordination with state, local and federal agencies, as well as private partners, and to help prevent the spread of the disease.” (Photo provided)


Luke Froncheck

Staff Writer


Local school officials are planning what to do if novel coronavirus (COVID-19) should it make its way to Barry County.

Community Health Promotion Specialist Sarah Surna of the Barry Eaton County Health Department said Tuesday that, currently, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. But Barry-Eaton District Health Department is preparing to address the virus if it should spread in the community, she said.

As for the coronavirus, people need to just relax,” Delton Kellogg Superintendent Kyle Corlett said. “There are no confirmed cases in Michigan right now. The local health departments are aware of the concern and are monitoring the situation.

But this is a good opportunity to have the hand-washing conversation with kids. When I see kids come out of the bathroom and I can still hear the toilet running, I’ll make sure they go back and wash their hands.

“We really need families to reinforce that at home, in addition to at school.”

Corlett also addressed how the school district's bus drivers clean their buses to avoid the further spreading of germs.

After every drop-off and pick-up period, bus drivers’ clean their buses by wiping off each of the seats with disinfectant wipes. If there comes a particular time when a vast number of kids are sick, Corlett said they have a “disinfectant bomb” that they put inside the buses and set off to spray disinfectant everywhere to get rid of even more of the germs.

If a kid is showing the symptoms of being sick, then they need to stay home,” Corlett said. “It’s impossible to not spread germs at school. Kids touch everything, whether it be their desks or tables or anything else.”

If the district has to close due to the sheer volume of sick children in the district, the district's janitorial staff will go through the school buildings and conduct a deep clean.

Hastings Superintendent Dan Remenap said his district sent a letter to home to families.

“We are simply informing people, not alarming them,” Remenap said. “Simple, common-sense approaches to prevention seem to be the best advice we are getting from professionals … wash hands, cover coughs/sneezes, stay home if you are ill, etc.”

A similar letter was sent home to Thornapple Kellogg families, Superintendent Robert Blitchok said. It said: I want to assure you that TK schools is doing everything possible to plan for and prevent the spread of coronavirus and other communicable disease by disinfecting classrooms and locker rooms.”

The letter also said that students who have symptoms of a communicable disease will be excluded from school and asks parents who may have sick children to keep their kids at home.

Maple Valley Superintendent Katherine Bertolini said, “As far as the coronavirus preparations are concerned, we are sending out a districtwide letter tomorrow that includes informational links. We are also going to post some information on our website and social media sites. Finally, we are going to begin a rotation through every building for sanitizing all of the areas in our schools and buses. We are doing this as a preventive measure.


“We have been and will continue to teach students about good personal hygiene, including frequent and thorough hand washing as one of the best preventive measures to keep people healthy. We will remain vigilant for keeping our staff, students and community as healthy as possible.”


“Any new virus is a scary thing for people,” she added, “and we want folks to stay informed, so we will be transparent with our preparations and work to keep a good amount of information flowing into the community.  The more we know, the better we can do.”


Dr. Michael Rice, superintendent of public instruction for the Michigan Department of Education, and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, informed districts about the virus in a letter sent out to school officials throughout the state.

A portion of the letter read: At this time, the health risk to the general public of Michigan from COVID-19 remains low, but schools and public libraries can take commonsense precautions to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

“Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 appears to spread via respiratory transmission. Symptoms are like those of influenza (e.g., fever, cough, and shortness of breath). The current outbreak is occurring during a time of year when respiratory illnesses from influenza and other viruses are highly prevalent.”

The letter also states that “decisions to exclude a student or staff member, or to close schools altogether, must be taken on a case-by-case basis, in coordination with local health departments. These decisions are local in nature and could vary from district to district or school to school.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, the MDHHS activated the Community Health Emergency Coordination Center. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer activated the State Emergency Operations Center on Friday, Feb. 28, to “maximize coordination with state, local and federal agencies, as well as private partners, and to help prevent the spread of the disease.”

“While there have been no confirmed cases in Michigan yet, we must recognize that this virus has the potential to impact nearly every aspect of our lives,” Whitmer said. “From our public schools, colleges, and universities to our businesses and hospitals, we must harness all of the resources we have to ensure we can prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep Michiganders safe. This is a strong, smart team that will make protecting our public health their number one priority and work closely with me to protect the people of our state.”

COVID-19, which some are referring to as the “novel coronavirus,” has been identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province of China.

As of March 3, some 91,313 cases had been documented globally, with more than 3,000 deaths. There are at least 10 states reporting cases of the disease, and two deaths. Person-to-person spread of the virus has occurred in the U.S., officials have said, with some of those occurring in people with no travel history and no known source of exposure.

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