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Local superintendents: Numbers don’t justify two-week pause locally

HOUGHTON — With local COVID-19 numbers well below the state average, local superintendents said at this point they are not going along with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request this morning for voluntary two-week pauses on youth sports and in-person instruction in high schools.

Whitmer also asked residents to avoid indoor dining for two weeks during her press conference Friday, which comes as the state has emerged as cases statewide have skyrocketed, aided by the emergence of more contagious variants.

“That’s the nature of this virus,” she said. “The second we let our guard down, it comes roaring back. Luckily we can put it all behind us once and for all if we get vaccinated. But we can’t get complacent in the meantime.”

Over the past seven days, Michigan’s seven-day average is 544.1 new cases per million, the highest rate in the country and the most new cases in the state since December. The positivity rate is 17.7% — the highest since last April.

Numbers locally and U.P.-wide, though up over February, have not reached that level.

Across the U.P., numbers are 203.6 per million and 6.5% positivity. Houghton County is the highest in the five-county area in both cases (153.2 per million) and positivity rate (7.5%). Though up from this year’s low of 90 per million, recorded in early February, the number of cases is on an 18-day downward trend, according to state data.

Because of those numbers, Copper Country Intermediate School District Superintendent George Stockero does not expect any local district to suspended

“We have very few cases in the hospital, very few cases in our schools,” he said. “So, right now, based on that information, all schools plan to stay open.”

U.P.-wide, there were 18 adults hospitalized with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 as of Friday, down from 24 on Jan. 31.

Houghton-Portage Township Schools Superintendent Doreen Kramer said the district would continue in-person learning and sports, while continuing to follow CDC guidelines and recommendations.

The district has been conducting rapid COVID-19 tests for spring athletes this week, with no positives, Kramer said.

“We’re going to look at our own data and the data from the community, and we’ll base that decision on our own data unless we’re given a mandate,” she said.

While Hancock Public Schools continues to monitor the situation, the district is not experiencing a spread of COVID, Superintendent Steve Patchin said.

“There are schools downstate that I can see this … but as long as we can do it safely, I think it’s important that we stay face to face,” he said.

Christopher Davidson, superintendent of the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium & Keweenaw, said based on the current COVID rates locally and in the schools, he and the district board do not intend to go along with the pause.

“We have been very fortunate with the long stretch of time that we have been able to sustain in-person instruction and we intend to continue this for the remainder of the school year, so long as conditions allow,” he said. “As always, CLK Schools will continue to monitor the local and school impact of COVID-19 to determine the best option for educating our students.”

Whitmer said the two-week pause was intended to help keep numbers down as districts return from spring break. The Copper Country Intermediate School District, with assistance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, will host a rapid testing event at Houghton High School Saturday.

The clinic will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Whitmer called on residents to get vaccinated. In the five-county area, 37.2% of residents 16 and up have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. That is close to the 38.7% average statewide.

The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) will hold mass community vaccination clinics using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Student Development Complex (SDC) at Michigan Tech on April 15 and April 29. People can sign up at wupdhd.org/covid-vaccination-clinics.

Whitmer also asked President Joe Biden to release additional doses of vaccine to Michigan to combat the spike in cases.

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