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Alpena Public Schools to return to remote learning for 2 weeks

Courtesy Image An illustration of the coronavirus provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ALPENA — Alpena Public Schools announced Friday that K-12 students will return to remote learning beginning Monday, due to a forecasted increase in COVID-19 cases in Alpena as well as a steady increase in positive school associated cases across the district.

The pause for in-person learning is planned for two weeks and if the situation improves, in-person learning could resume on May 3.

Officials said after careful consideration, spring sports would move forward and not be canceled at this time, due to the use of ongoing rapid testing for athletes.

On April 9, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked school systems to voluntarily return to remote learning, but Alpena Public Schools decided to push ahead with in-person lessons, while monitoring the spread of the disease.

Over the last week, there were several classes placed in quarantine, and some schools had already transitioned to online learning.

School officials had previously announced on Thursday that Thunder Bay Junior High School students would continue remote learning and students at Wilson Elementary had transitioned to remote learning.

APS Superintendent Dave Rabbideau said it is in the best interest of the kids, staff, and community to shift gears and utilize a two-week hiatus from the physical classroom to help keep COVID-19 from spreading more severely in the schools.

“We are seeing increases across the district,” Rabbideau said. “Overall, the numbers are still low, but unmanageable. People need to remember that one positive case can impact hundreds.”

Rabbideau said after Whitmer made her appeal last week, APS administrative staff and the board of education considered her request. Based on local COVID-19 conditions at the time, Rabbideau said, a conscious decision was made to continue in-person learning.

But, Rabbideau said, Whitmer could have been more direct on what she wanted schools to do, instead of laying the decisions at the feet of local officials.

“We were frustrated by her recommendation versus a strong statement,” he said. “I fully support local control, but we need guidance and consistency. We considered it then, but determined our best course of action was to continue with in-person, with the understanding that things could change in a moment’s notice.”

As graduation nears, and the last day of school approaches, Rabbideau said at this point there hasn’t been consideration for having the students finish out the year at home. He said that could change, if circumstances warrant it, but right now, the school is pushing for as much in-person learning as possible.

“Out number-one priority is to have them in person,” Rabbideau said. “We’ll fight for every minute of in-person instruction that we can.”

The number of infections in Northeast Michigan continues to climb, and more people are getting vaccinated.

As of Friday, 40.3% of Alpena County residents 16 or older had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to state data.

A clinic hosted by MidMichigan Health will distribute the Pfizer vaccine to teens ages 16 to 17 on May 1, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the auditorium at MidMichigan Medical Center – Alpena.

People within this age group who want to schedule an appointment can call the family medicine office at (989) 354-2142. A parent is required to accompany the teen to the appointment to sign the consent form.

Public health experts say at least 70% of residents 16 and older — and perhaps as high as 85% — must get vaccinated before we might reach enough “herd immunity” to consider the coronavirus pandemic over and return to normal life.

The state says 45% of Presque Isle County residents, 39.9% of Montmorency County residents, and 42.7% of Alcona County residents have been fully vaccinated.

In the past week, public health officials have reported 342 newly infected or probably Northeast Michiganders and the deaths of five residents who had been infected.

Since February, Northeast Michigan health officials had reported confirmed and suspected infections as one number. A person is suspected infected if they’d been exposed to a confirmed infected person but hadn’t been tested, themselves — such as family members of infected people.

Northeast Michigan public health agencies stopped reporting the number of people recovered from COVID-19, but, based on federal definitions that consider a person living 30 days after infection to have recovered from the disease, The News estimates 931 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected — and potentially contagious — on Friday.

A week ago, 622 residents were actively infected.

Other key Northeast Michigan COVID-19 statistics:

∫ As of Friday, 13 COVID-19 patients were admitted at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena, three of them in intensive care. The hospital was 43% full. State officials watch hospital occupancy rates closely to decide whether to impose new restrictions meant to slow the spread of infection.

∫ Since the pandemic’s start in mid-March 2020, public health officials have reported 3,897Northeast Michiganders infected or probably infected, and 113 related deaths.

∫ On Friday, the state reported zero newly infected residents of Northeast Michigan nursing homes, and zero newly infected nursing home employees. That’s a key statistic, because COVID-19 tends to cause the most serious complications in infected senior citizens, and nursing home infections accounted for most infections early on in the outbreak.

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