Breaking news: Michigan schools K-12 to close for three weeks due to COVID-19

*names have been changed in order to respect the anonymity of those interviewed.

During a livestream that started at 11:00 p.m. on March 13, 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that all Michigan school buildings, public, private, and boarding, kindergarten through 12th grade will be closed for three weeks from March 16 to April 6. 

“So, obviously, there are ramifications to these decisions,” Whitmer said. “I think that it’s in the best interest in the health of our population to take those steps, but we are cognizant of the fact that a lot children require special needs instruction, we are cognizant of the fact that we have a lot of children in Michigan who get two of their three meals in the school place, and so we are working through how we address those. Clearly the question around standardized testing is one that we will grapple with, as will many states, frankly. What this means in terms of a school year at this juncture, this three week closure lines up with the vast majority of spring breaks that are on the calendar, so it really is about two weeks. We are encouraging schools with which this doesn’t line up with spring break, that they adjust and plan to get back onto class on April 6. All of this, of course, is dependent on where the facts take us and what we think it the appropriate and responsible thing in terms of starting class back up. But we did want to say that this order is not in perpetuity, as we need to adjust and extend, I will along the way, but it’s always going to be with the guidance of our education and most importantly, our health officials.”

Whitmer stated several times that this is the most safe and responsible decision in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We’ve always known that the coronavirus would appear in Michigan,” Whitmer said. “With all of the travel that happens and the aggressive nature of the spread of this virus, we knew that this day was going to come, and that is why I started the SCOC a few weeks ago to get up and running, created the task forces so that we could be swift and informed as we make decisions, and that’s why these actions have been so important to help us be in this position where we can move forward.”

Teachers and other staff will be paid as if school was still in session.

“Thank you for tuning in, thank you for doing your part,” Whitmer said. “We encourage every individual in our state, every business, every leader to do their part in order to ensure that we are mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. As developments happen, we will keep you informed, and we will continue to make decisions based on the best science, the best practices, and always based on the facts. Thank you and goodnight.”

This coronavirus, or COVID-19, has arisen from the Wuhan district of China, the capital of the Hubei province, home to more than 11 million residents (for scale, London in the United Kingdom is home to eight million). The CO in COVID-19 stands for corona, the VI stands for virus, the D stands for disease, and the 19 is meant to signify the year the novel disease materialized. A novel disease is a disease that has never been seen before.

The first case of COVID-19 in the US was documented on Jan. 21, 2020. As of March 12 at 10:44 p.m., there are 1,731 confirmed cases of the virus and 41 deaths in the US. There are now 12 presumptive positive documented cases in Michigan. The Saginaw Health department has tested five individuals for the coronavirus. Four have come back negative and one is still pending.

“My place of employment is very well prepared,” an anonymous Great Lakes Bay Region hospital worker, Julie*, said in a text interview. “We have daily meetings and multiple committees who are very well prepared.”

In response to the public reaction, MidMichigan Health administered an announcement on March 12 on their Facebook page. Due to the increased number of residents seeking coronavirus testing, “MidMichigan Health has initiated its emergency preparedness protocol”, which includes testing tents outside of Emergency Departments at each of the MidMichigan Health Medical Centers. 

“I am not concerned about corona coming to work for me,” Julie* said. “As I said before, we are well prepared. It’s only a matter of time, I think it will show up at my place of employment. It’s only a matter of time.”

Although there are only two confirmed cases in Michigan, there has been an almost immediate and swift response from both national and state organizations. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has suspended their regular season after Utah Jazz player Rody Gobert tested positive for the virus. The National Hockey League has followed the NBA’s decision and suspended their own season. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has cancelled the incredibly popular March Madness championship. Colleges and universities around the nation have moved classes online and sent students home. The Michigan High School Athletics Association has cancelled sporting events that DHS was set to compete in, such as the hockey regional finals against Flint Powers Catholic, and the Michigan State Finals for swim. 

“My mind is really twisted right now, I still can’t really comprehend what happened, because it happened really fast,” senior Collin Che said. “I think all of the high school divisions that were competing didn’t see this coming and I think it’s just a bit of a surprise that it had to happen.”

Basketball has also been affected. The DHS boy’s varsity basketball team was set to compete against Mt. Pleasant in district finals, but that game has been postponed indefinitely. 

“Right now, we’re on a pretty good win streak,” senior Nathan Burgard said. “I think we’ve won our last three games, and especially ending the regular season beating Saginaw High, I think the team is feeling pretty good. Obviously we would have liked to have had a shot at beating Mt. Pleasant, but I think if the season would end up being cancelled, I think the team would be pretty happy about how it finished.”

In a special edition communique released by Midland Public School’s (MPS) superintendent Michael Sharrow on March 12, it was revealed that all school events involving large groups of people to be gathered, such as sporting events, assemblies, and awards programs are to be suspended. All district sponsored travel is also suspended, which affects clubs such as DECA, who were to send 21 students to the International Career Development Conference in Nashville, Tennessee from April 29 to May 2.

“Knowing that a lot of people worked hard and spent four years doing this, it’s tough to see that we can’t perform at the next level, and I know that it’s for safety reasons, but I think that cancelling it this far in advance is a little bit of an overreaction,” senior Austin Urlaub said. 

Another school activity affected by the suspensions is the spring musical, “The Secret Garden”, which is postponed until further notice. Options in order to make sure that the hard work does not go to waste are postponing the show until May, livestreaming the show, or filming the show and distributing it. 

“It kind of sucks because we’ve been working on the show since December, and I know that Gardner has been working on the show since last April, so almost a year, and it’s horrible to see all of the hard work that we’ve put in, sort of, not go to waste, but we’re unable to show off the hard work we’ve put in front of a live audience,” senior Liam McLeod said. “That does dishearten a lot of people, however, it is sort of uplifting to know that the cast is still looking at this as a beautiful experience and Mr. Gardner is trying to do all of the things possible to sort of organize a showing or a filming so that we have some way to remember the show and some way to look back on this experience.”

However, not all activities affected by the suspension are able to be made up. Just as DECA, the Model United Nations club will not be able to attend their overnight Michigan State Model United Nations Conference from March 13 to March 15.

“I honestly believe it’s the best option out there because I hear a lot of people in the hallways complaining, but I would rather not go to a single conference or sporting event than get the coronavirus and potentially affect and kill other people,” sophomore William Gandy said.

Some take these cancellations and suspensions as reason to panic. Items like canned food, medical masks, soap, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper have seen shortages recently in response to the looming threat of the pandemic. 

“I think the hysteria happens because of corona’s rapid ability to spread,” Julie* said. “It’s scary for people. However, I do not believe the extent we are seeing in society is necessary.”

New viruses do not just pop out of nowhere. The coronavirus is nothing new. In fact, these sometimes deadly diseases come from millions of years of evolution. Diseases dating back to the Black Death in the 14th century to the Spanish flu in the early 20th century, to Ebola in 2014, to the coronavirus today, have all come as mutated viruses. Like natural selection works with the evolution of different species, it also ties directly to the evolution of these viruses. Stronger, longer lasting, easily transmittable diseases survive and reproduce faster than ones that do not have these characteristics. This means humans must always expect and be ready for new virus mutations in order to stay clean, create a cure, and overcome the virus. Influenza, which is relatively common, is also a virus.

“People with corona have so far been known to have more shortness of breath than those with the flu,” Julie* said. “Otherwise, the symptoms are very similar.”

The symptoms of coronavirus are a runny nose, a sore throat, a cough, fever, chills, and in severe cases, breathing problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with preexisting health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer make them especially susceptible to death by COVID-19.  

According to Live Science, scientists believe that the coronavirus materialized after people visited a local seafood and animal market. The scientists believe that the virus came from the live bats at this market, due to the 88% of similarity between the DNA of the coronavirus and a bat. However, just because the virus appears to have come from an animal does not mean that the disease is able to be transmitted to animals. Despite earlier panic that household pets can be affected by coronavirus, there is no evidence thus far to confirm this belief.

Viruses do not seek to kill their hosts. In fact, a virus’s goal is to find a host organism that it can live on for as much time as possible. This means that some viruses, like the coronavirus, are much better suited for other animals rather than humans. In this case, the coronavirus is a much better fit for a bat, and can keep the bat alive while benefiting off of its body.  The virus is not suited to keep a human healthy and alive, though, bringing negative symptoms and fatalities to humans. This is similar to the situation of the Black Death, which occurred almost 700 years ago. The virus had spread to humans from the rats that the illness was much more suited to live in. This resulted in millions of deaths across the world.

However, health is not the only issue to address when speaking on COVID-19. Another problem that has popped up as a result of this illness is racism. Since the virus hails from China, some people are using the illness as a punchline in racist jokes. An anonymous DHS student, Jane*, recently dealt with this exact situation.

“People haven’t been treating me unfairly compared to others, but I have so far only gotten one comment about it,” Jane* said. “We were with a group of friends and then I had just had a shot for hepatitis B, and somebody hit my arm and I said ‘ow, that hurts’ and I explained I got a shot. Then they asked me ‘oh, did you also get a shot for the coronavirus as well?’.”

Some don’t even joke at all, using the coronavirus as justification for those with Chinese heritage to stay in or go back to China, even if they have never left the United States. 

“Don’t judge people based off of how they look, because I haven’t left the country in years,” Jane* said. “I haven’t come into contact with anyone that would possibly have it. So I would just say, all because they look different from me and they are different than me doesn’t mean that they actually are, because I’m also a U.S. citizen and you are too.”

Stories of racism like this have been popping up not only around the United States, but also the world. #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan was a trending tag on Twitter in Japan. An Australian doctor by the name of Rhea Liang tweeted that a patient refused to shake her hand because of her ethnicity. Citizens of countries like Britain have expressed their incredible discomfort, adding that they feel as if they belong to a diseased and ostracized mass. Businesses around the world are displaying signs that read “NO CHINESE”. 

“I understand that they’re scared and they don’t want any potential diseased people to go to their business or country or whatever,” Jane* said. “I just think that labeling Chinese people as a whole, as having this disease is morally incorrect. I feel like they should focus more on the people in China because not all the people in China are Chinese. The general labelling of every Chinese person having coronavirus is morally wrong.”

There have also been several reports and viral posts detailing violent attacks against Chinese people in countries such as England.

“I think that sort of response from people is really not the right answer,” Che said. “I think that people shouldn’t take anger out on people that live their own lives. They bully them and what they do.”

In order to avoid COVID-19, it is recommended to wash hands very frequently. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Do not go near anyone who thinks they have the virus, as the virus is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also thought that the coronavirus can be transmitted when someone touches an infected surface or object and then touches their face. However, the coronavirus is not thought to be able to survive for very long on surfaces, so there is not an incredibly high risk of spread from food products or packaging, especially if they are shipped over a period of days or weeks.

“Washing hands is the number one recommendation,” Julie* said. “You should also avoid large groups of people when possible. Stay home. Avoid contact with others who are sick.”

The Update Online will be publishing material on the website as the situation in Midland develops further.

*names have been changed in order to respect the anonymity of those interviewed.

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Lillian Pressnell & contributing author Alex Futter

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