When they return next week, Marcus Garvey Academy students will be subject to temperature checks and encouraged to wear masks after a high rate of illness in the Detroit public school prompted its temporary closure.

Marcus Garvey Principal Wakeita Winston laid out the school’s plans for the coming weeks Friday and stressed staff would be cautious, making masks available at all building entrances and ensuring students are properly washing their hands. 

“We are strongly encouraging all students to wear masks. It is not mandatory because we do not have any COVID protocols at this time,” Winston told families, students and staff during a virtual informational meeting. 

Winston joined Alycia Meriweather, Detroit Public Schools Community District deputy superintendent of external partnerships and innovation and Detroit Health Department Director Dr. Claudia Richardson for the update on cleaning measures and response plans for the rise in sickness among students.

The district and city health officials announced Wednesday that several students in the lower grades were experiencing flu-like symptoms earlier in the week such as vomiting and a fever. The district and health department then decided to close the building from Wednesday to Friday for deep cleaning and to monitor children’s symptoms. 

DHD is also working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) in addition to DPSCD to monitor and trace all reported illnesses involving students from the school. 

Richardson told families Friday that she did not want to specify the illnesses, but said some children have Haemophilus influenzae. This is a type of bacteria that can cause bacterial infections ranging from a mild ear infection to more severe conditions, like bloodstream infections. The infections usually affect children under five years old or people who are immunocompromised. 

Richardson is recommending children affected by the illnesses take preventative medicine.

“Those who meet the criteria for this preventative medicine are the following: confirmed cases of Haemophilus influenzae, household contact of cases, symptomatic children in the affected schools and staff members of the affected schools,” she said. 

For those who are sick, Richardson urges them to visit their medical provider. Students who do not have a primary care doctor can receive an antibiotic at the Ascension health clinic at Garvey Academy, Meriweather said. Caregivers can obtain an electronic letter from DHD to grant permission for the antibiotic. The letter’s will be made available at the school’s main office on Monday as will the medicine.

Garvey staff began receiving notices Monday of preschool and kindergarten students getting sick, Meriweather said. The school reached out to DHD, which recommended disinfecting classrooms. As more cases were reported Tuesday, the district decided to close the academy for the remainder of the week. 

While the school remains closed, additional custodians have come in and disinfected the entire school, from classrooms, hallways, lockers, offices and the cafeteria, Meriweather said. In addition, all of the restrooms will be power washed Saturday. 

DPSCD noted earlier in the week that a kindergarten student from Marcus Garvey died last week. The medical examiner had not yet determined the cause of death, district officials said.

When asked by a member of the virtual audience if any other Detroit public schools are experiencing the illness, Meriweather said one other school was affected due to a Garvey student having a sibling in that building. She did not provide the name of the school. 

“We’re monitoring that school closely,” Meriwether said of the other building. “That school did receive a robocall yesterday notifying them that there is a sibling of a student at Garvey who is at the school who is exhibiting symptoms. At this point, we’re only aware of one sibling.” 

DPSCD nurses are monitoring symptoms across the district in case other illnesses pop up, she said. 

DPSCD and DHD are urging children to stay home if they have these symptoms: 

  • Fever and chills 
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Altered mental status (confusion) 

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