Berrien Co. Health Dept. urges continued action from schools

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- The Berrien County Health Department, along with area superintendents, released an open letter after a handful of districts reported cases of COVID-19.

“We know that the schools are presenting a well-controlled environment that has many safety procedures and protocols in place, however what’s happening outside of the school setting matters tremendously when we’re looking at whether we can continue to have in person instruction,” said Gillian Conrad, Communications Manager for the Berrien County Health Department.

The health department is also meeting with superintendents to create a plan for if things get worse.

At Lakeshore, after school officials had to close Stewart Elementary for a few days when COVID-19 exposure turned into a lack of substitutes available, they’re focusing even more on keeping the virus from ever entering the building.

“By having our staff screened on a daily basis, recommending that our students screen on a daily basis as well, but just in case they do show up in our building we keep telling everybody the three W’s: Wear your mask, watch your distance and wash your hands,” said Superintendent Philip Freeman.

While the health department is not yet recommending schools pivot to 100 percent E-learning, at Watervliet, they’re prepping software to be ready for classrooms to become completely virtual after North Elementary was forced to shut down for a week due to COVID-19.

“We’re prepared for the day when we need to go full remote and close the schools and so those contingency plans are being practiced, reviewed and we actually will be doing some trial runs. But we’re doing everything we can, our protocols are working and we’re happy with what’s happening,” said Superintendent Ric Seager.

Still, Conrad said Berrien County is at a favorable spot but they’re bracing for increased health risks flu season will bring.

“This can also make it difficult for educators to know whether a student can be present in the school and the same goes for staff,” said Conrad. “As more respiratory, viral activity is happening the amount of close contacts that might end up in quarantine as a result of COVID-19 exposure is something schools are considering as a factor in remaining open in person.”

The open letter from the Berrien County Health Department can be read here: https://www.berriencounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/12668/Rise-in-COVID-19-Cases-in-the-Community-and-Implications-for-Schools-10-22-2020?bidId=

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