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Northern Michigan health officials warn of Delta variant spread as school year begins

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Brett Dahlberg
/
WCMU News
Dr. Jennifer Morse, the medical director for three local health departments in Mid- and Northern Michigan, speaks at a virtual news conference on Tuesday.

Health officials in Northern Michigan say they’re struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant. They’re concerned that the school year is starting without clear standards for safety.

Health officials in Northern Michigan said this week that they’re struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant.

Local health department leaders said they are concerned that the school year is starting without clear standards for safety.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she’s leaving the decision about whether to require masks in schools up to local districts and will not issue a statewide mask mandate, even as the Delta variant spreads across the state.

COVID-19 cases in the Benzie-Leelanau and Northwest Michigan health departments have quadrupled in the last month, said health officer Lisa Peacock.

Peacock said local emergency services are under strain, and bringing students and teachers back together for in-person classes risks spreading the virus further.

“We are, you know, trying to hold back the flood gates at the community level to prevent that strain from becoming unmanageable,” she said. “Certainly, we know that schools present a risky environment.”

Peacock said she wants schools to be able to continue holding in-person classes. That’s why her health departments have ordered their local school districts to require masks.

Dr. Jennifer Morse, the medical director for three Northern Michigan health districts, said she’s leaving masking decisions up to the school districts in her jurisdiction.

Still, she said, she hopes that people will wear masks, even if they’re not required. Morse said vaccination rates are not high enough in her health districts to prevent outbreaks in schools.

“Vaccination rates continue to creep up, but very, very slowly at this point,” she said.

Morse and Peacock both encouraged everyone who can to get vaccinated and, if they have any symptoms of infection, to get tested so contact tracers can help people quarantine.