Dowagiac schools report 78 COVID cases since beginning of semester

Published 9:07 am Thursday, January 20, 2022

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect COVID-19 numbers released Thursday. 

DOWAGIAC — As COVID-19 continues to impact school operations across Cass County, at least one local district has reported an uptick in the rate of positive tests.

Since returning from holiday break, Dowagiac schools have reported 78 new school-associated cases across the district, including 24 this week, according to the district COVID-19 Dashboard available on its website. For rate comparison, the previous 77 cases were recorded over a seven-week period from Oct. 25 to Dec. 15.

In the new year, 28 of the reported cases are from the high school, 21 from the middle school, 12 from Patrick Hamilton Elementary, eight from Kincheloe Elementary, six from Justus Gage Elementary and three from Sister Lakes Elementary. Since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, 243 total cases have been reported.

School-associated cases are defined by the district as “probable or confirmed COVID-19 case amongst students, teachers, staff members, coaches, volunteers or any other person present on school property under circumstances that may have resulted in transmission or infection with COVID-19.” Confirmed cases are considered positive COVID-19 test results that have been reported to the school.

Dowagiac Schools Superintendent Jonathan Whan said while every case may not be reported by families, he believes the numbers are fairly accurate.

“I do think that our families have been very good at sharing information, I really do,” Whan said. “We are definitely noticing that families are being more cautious when kids are having fevers and showing symptoms. I think they are doing their best to cooperate and communicate with us, and to go about making good decisions about the health of their families.”

As of the 2020-21 school year, the Dowagiac Union School District had 2,105 students, according to MI School Data. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the school employed about 245 staff members in the same year. Given these numbers, roughly 10 percent of all students and staff in the district have contracted COVID this year.

“We have seen some increases,” Whan said. “But we’re hearing that the students are handling it well. Staff is handling it well with the new protocols about how long you have to quarantine. We’re hoping to get kids back in school and staff back in school quicker.”

After the latest state and federal guidance, the district announced a mandatory five-day isolation period after a person’s first day of COVID symptoms.

While other Cass County school districts such as Cassopolis and Edwardsburg contain close contact notification numbers on their online COVID dashboards, the Dowagiac site did not have not have that information available as of Wednesday.

Whan said the school does not currently require a quarantine for close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID.

“It’s a family decision,” he said. “Our data last year showed that of just shy of 1,000 students, 99.5 percent of them didn’t contract COVID. So, we were quarantining kids – we had some quarantined three or four times in a year, and for 10 days at a time – so we are not mandating quarantining for close contact. Families are informed and they’re given their choice of whether they want to stay home or not.”

According to the district’s guidance letter from School Nurse Suzanne Dorman, students may return to school after close contact outside of the home if they do not have symptoms. For cases of close contact within the home, the letter recommends the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated isolate for at least five days with a COVID test completed on day five.

“If you have a negative test, are symptom-free after day five and you provide documentation of the test to the school nurse, you may return to school or work on day six if you wear a mask for an additional five days,” state the guidelines, which are linked on the Dowagiac Union Schools website.

According to Whan, masks are not required in the schools but said the topic is something the district is willing to consider if necessary. The school board, however, has not taken up the issue recently, according to Whan.

“Masks are always something that are on the back burner,” he said. “We’re always keeping an eye on it. … If we felt it would help us not have to go virtual, then that’s kind of what we’re looking at. We have quite a few students and staff who are choosing to self-mask, which is great, and that’s kind of why we had the optional approach.”

In regard to the possible nationwide vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers, Whan said he has been keeping an eye on the situation and preparing for the possibility. As of Jan. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing the mandate.

“If things change, we would move forward in complying with the requirements,” Whan said. “We just keep trying to gather information in case we need it, and that have our plans ready if we need to implement it.”

To stay up to date on Dowagiac COVID-19 numbers and to read the full recommendations from nurse Dorman, visit dowagiacschools.org.