Kent County school districts are taking precautions in scheduling sports events and other after-school activities following discovery of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in the autopsy of a deer in Kent County. It was the first confirmed case in Kent County of EEE, which has reportedly sickened eight people, three of whom died, in six Southwest Michigan counties, according to the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS).
Some districts have rescheduled events, and all are considering decisions based on their individual circumstances, following advice from the MDHHS and Kent County Health Department to consider avoiding having students outdoors at dusk or in the evening, when the risk of contracting the mosquito-borne virus is higher. People under age 15 and over 50 are at highest risk of developing severe disease from EEE, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No human cases of EEE have been found in Kent County, officials said.
“EEE is an exceedingly rare but dangerous disease,” says Dr. Nirali Bora, Kent County Health Department Medical Director. “Only about 4 to 5 percent of human EEE infections result in illness and most people who are infected will never show symptoms. Those who do become infected may develop fever, chills, body and joint aches.”
There is no “blanket directive” from health officials for all schools to reschedule outdoor events for daylight hours, but it’s “one recommendation among many for districts to consider in their efforts to ensure safety,” said Ron Koehler, a Kent ISD assistant superintendent. Those include measures such as wearing protective clothing, and gauging whether there are wetlands that can breed mosquitoes nearby a scheduled event, he said.
“Schools take the health and safety of students, staff and the families of those who attend athletics, marching band and other extracurricular activities very seriously,” Koehler said. “It is our highest priority.”
Districts that have made changes so far include Grand Rapids Public Schools, which relocated tonight’s Sept. 27 Ottawa Hills High School Homecoming football game to Houseman Field and moved up the start time to 4:30 p.m. It also canceled Ottawa’s JV boys soccer game Thursday and moved the varsity game up to 5 p.m. at Forest Hills. GRPS is reviewing all after-school and evening outdoor activities next week and will announce any additional changes in the coming days, spokesman John Helmholdt said.
Rockford High School’s Homecoming game tonight also was rescheduled to 5 p.m. In a message to parents, Superintendent Michael Shibler said “all evening activities, practices, and competitions at RPS will be rescheduled to conclude by dusk until a hard frost occurs,” estimated to be sometime in November.
Other Kent County districts including East Grand Rapids, Cedar Springs, Grandville, East Kentwood and Kenowa Hills also rescheduled football games, and EGR canceled its Homecoming parade, WOOD-TV8 reported.
To protect against EEE as well as West Nile Virus, health officials advise using repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, installing and repairing window and door screens, and emptying containers of standing water and frequently changing pets’ water bowls.