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Berrien County holds at one official school COVID-19 outbreak in Stevensville

BERRIEN COUNTY — Despite reports of positive COVID-19 cases in area schools over the past few weeks, the numbers have stayed low, according to the Berrien County Health Department.

Even with multiple cases being reported out of some local schools, just one school, Lakeshore High School in Stevensville, throughout the county has been added to the Michigan coronavirus database of school-related outbreak reporting. Lakeshore High School had two students on that list as of Thursday afternoon.

Berrien County Health Department Communications Manager Gillian Conrad attributed that to the measures schools put in place as students returned to in-person instruction about six weeks ago.

“I would say that things within our schools are going as well as can be expected, maybe even a little better,” Conrad said.

According to Conrad, all of the major school districts throughout Berrien County chose to have in-person instruction as an option as students returned to classes this fall.

“This was certainly against some of the trends we saw across the rest of the state, and even across the country,” Conrad said. “The fact that Berrien County school leaders were ready to take the leap and return to the classroom for the benefit of all the students — where in-person learning is really the best option for them — I think we’re just really proud of what our community decided to do and how we have been able to navigate and manage it.”

According to Conrad, up until Thursday, there have been 36 school-associated cases through Berrien County since students returned to classrooms. For the school-related outbreak reporting, students, staff, educators and administration are combined in the numbers.

School-related outbreaks are listed on the Michigan Coronavirus data website each Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. The website states local health departments will contact those who may have had direct contact with a COVID-19 positive school employee or student, on the school grounds. If students or staff were exposed to the virus outside of school grounds and are not thought to have spread it or been in contact with anyone on school grounds, they are not included in the numbers reported.

In a regular year, with all students in classrooms, Conrad said there are around 25,000 school aged children throughout the county. With around 30 percent of them opting for virtual or remote learning, she is still happy with the small number of cases for schools. Of the total positive cases of COVID-19 reported in Berrien County, Conrad said 8 percent have been in individuals under the age of 18. There have been more than 300 quarantines indicated due to exposures, but many are thought to have been exposed to someone, a family member or friend who tested positive for COVID-19, outside of a school environment.

“It’s a really small number, and a really small proportion of families that have had a positive case,” Conrad said. “This is far less than what that age group makes up in our general population. They’re making less than their proportion of for the population.”

Conrad attributed this to the precautions put in place in schools, including hallways with one-way traffic and limiting close interactions where ever educators can.

“They’re getting [the virus] from family, outside friends, youth group, church, sports practices,” Conrad said. “It’s not coming from an in-classroom exposure. All of that is definitely good news.”

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