UPDATE as of 1 p.m., Friday, March 13:
Late on the evening of Thursday, March 12, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that all K-12 school buildings were to close from Monday, March 16 to Sunday, April 5 in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. In a letter to district parents sent out on the morning of Friday, March 13, ERPS Superintendent Bill DeFrance said students would be sent home today with some learning material and that an update could be expected by the end of the day.
By Carla Bumstead
The Eaton Rapids Public School (ERPS) district and Barry-Eaton District Heath Department (BEDHD) are working together to monitor a district employee who began a COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) related self-quarantine last week after returning from a trip to Italy. On the afternoon of Monday, March 9, BEDHD became aware that a teacher at Greyhound Intermediate School (GIS) had returned to work that day, unaware of the self-quarantine recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The teacher’s name is not being released.
Speaking on the morning of March 12, ERPS superintendent Bill DeFrance said he has been in daily contact with the health department since learning about the situation on Monday afternoon.
“The cooperation we have received from [BEDHD] has been amazing, right from the start,” DeFrance said. “Their reaction has been extremely swift, and we couldn’t be more pleased.”
The teacher has been checking in with the health department on a daily basis and, as of the morning of March 12, was showing no signs of illness and had not been tested for the virus.
“The employee is currently asymptomatic,” said BEDHD’s Milea Burgstahler, who serves as a community health promotions specialist.
As for testing, Burgstahler explained the health department is following CDC guidelines.
“Testing would only be done, on anyone, if an individual becomes symptomatic and also has a travel history from a high-risk area where there is community transmission of COVID-19,” Burgstahler said. “The other indicator would be if someone was symptomatic and had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.”
As of March 12, Burgstahler said there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Eaton County.
However, she said it is very important for residents to know what they should do if they suspect they may have the virus.
“If someone believes they may have COVID-19 and has either traveled to a high-risk country or been in contact with someone with a confirmed case, they should call ahead to whatever health care provider they plan on seeking treatment from — whether that be a doctor, urgent care or emergency room,” Burgstahler said. “Calling ahead is the main message we can give — as calling ahead will give health care providers the opportunity to prepare to treat the person and can prevent the potential spread of the disease.”
Several letters apprising parents of the situation at GIS, and the school district as a whole, have gone out — the first being sent on the evening of March 9.
“Based upon the [health] department’s assessment, there is minimal risk to students and staff, and there is no reason for self-quarantine of anyone else,” stated DeFrance in that letter.
Affected GIS classrooms were thoroughly cleaned on the afternoon and evening of March 9. GIS houses students in grades three, four and five and has a student population of approximately 445 students.
DeFrance explained that any discussions regarding possible future closure of schools would be done as part of the entire state’s policy on school closures.
For more information on the COVID-19 outbreak, including travel advisories, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov. The site also includes full information on how to best protect oneself from the illness. The State of Michigan has also set up a special website, full of state-specific recommendations and guidelines, at www.michigan.gov/coronavirus.