By Carol Stiffler
As far back as March, medical experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s leading infectious diseases doctor, warned that a second wave of coronavirus was likely. The next one could be bigger and more deadly, they said.
By all accounts, it appears the next wave is here. On Sunday, November 15, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the state is in its worst moment of the pandemic to date.
War Memorial Hospital President and CEO David Jahn wrote an open letter to the region on November 12, warning that his hospital’s COVID wing was filling up and hospitals in Marquette and Petoskey could no longer accept transfers. That left only Munson Medical Center in Traverse City within a three-hour drive, he said.
“This will really test our EMS services in the area if a transfer is needed because they will be out of the community for longer periods of time and may refuse to transfer a patient for us,” Jahn wrote.
In an attempt to flatten the curve – again – Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon issued a new set of mandates on Sunday. These requirements extend for three weeks:
-Students in grades 9-12 would switch to virtual learning beginning today – November 18.
-Restaurants and bars must close dining rooms and offer take-out only.
-All high school sports are on hold. College and professional sports can continue, but without any fans in attendance.
Schools could opt to send all students to in-home learning, and to stay that way longer, Whitmer said. Many are doing just that.
In Newberry, the Tahquamenon Area Schools Board of Education met on Monday. It was their regular meeting, but chief on the agenda was a discussion of how to proceed with schooling. After a recent collection of three positive COVID cases at school, the district closed to regroup on November 13, and 42 students are in quarantine until after Thanksgiving break.
The board listened to two letters written by teachers in the district, who urged for a switch to virtual learning before a serious outbreak could take place.
Social Studies teacher Patrice Bedford said some of her students refuse to comply with proper mask wearing, which is putting everyone in the room at risk.
“In my classroom, I remind students constantly about masks,” Bedford wrote. “Once reminded, they’re up over the nose for a brief moment before they’re plunged back below. Or there are students who will be so mad that I’ve had to remind them to mask properly, that when they pull it up, they pull the mask up over their eyes and put their heads down. Some put them in their mouths and chew on them, slice them open with scissors, and sometimes will even take them off completely and throw them across the room.”
Though the district has said it will force non-compliant students to switch to virtual learning, none have actually been sent home. Teachers are scared, Bedford wrote, and are pouring from empty cups every day.
History teacher Randy Griffis also wrote to the board, telling them the staff is worried.
”We worry about which member of the school community will end up in the ICU or worse; we worry about taking the virus home to our families; we worry about the long-term effects of the virus that may compromise our health forever, or that may shorten our lives,” Griffis wrote.
“Obviously, I value education above most everything else, but I value the health of my co-workers and my students even more,” Griffis said. “As I said in my letter, we can fix lapses in education. We can’t fix a lost life.”
Because so many classes are a blend of students in grades 7-12, it made more sense to have all students in those grades study from home, the board determined. They also lengthened the virtual learning period through December 31, at the close of the Christmas break.
Students in grades Kindergarten through 6 will stay in school until after Thanksgiving break, and will be virtual students from that point through December 31.
Griffis called it the “best decision in a bad situation.” He noted that schools in Baraga, Bark River, Bessemer, Calumet, Ewen-Trout Creek, Gladstone, Gwinn, Hannahville, Iron Mountain, Ironwood, Kingsford, L’anse, Marquette, Menominee, Mid-Pen, North Dickinson, Norway, Ontonagon, Rapid River, Rudyard, Sault, Wakefield, and Watersmeet were also closing.
Tahquamenon will revisit the decision and consider lengthening the at-home learning if the virus situation is still critical in January, the board said.
It’s these kinds of measures, plus the necessary handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing, that will make the difference, Whitmer said.
“At the end, if we all do our part, we will be in a better place,” she said. “Our hope is that everyone takes this seriously, does their part, and it works.”