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Community updates: Thursday, Aug. 13

Kent County Health Department reports decline in county’s new COVID-19 cases, urges face covering use for younger students; Grand Rapids coalition developing month-long "The Bridge" event as alternative to now-canceled ArtPrize 2020; and more.
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The Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids. /Experience Grand Rapids

Kent County Health Department reports decline in county’s new COVID-19 cases, urges face covering use for younger students

Kent County's rate of new COVID-19 cases has declined since last week, the Kent County Health Department (KCHD) reported on Wednesday. The decline comes as the county gears up for the fall season, with the department recommending face covering use in school for students in kindergarten and up.

An average of about 36 new cases cases per day were reported by the KCHD over the last week, compared to an average of about 50 new cases per day the week prior. In addition, the county's percentage of tests coming back positive – known as the test positivity rate – has come down to 2.2%, from 2.9% the week before.

"This is a good sign," London said in the KCHD's weekly video update, after sharing numbers. A good sign that's part of a broader one: Kent County's new cases per week has stayed about flat since mid-July, averaging around 40.

Despite the county's success in reducing the spread of the virus over the last month, London expressed continued concern about what's happening on the other side of the state. In the metro Detroit area, its test positivity rate ranges between 4.5% to over 7%.

"That's very concerning because of the potential that has to influence the rest of the state's situation with COVID-19," London said.

To ensure Kent County's continued success with slowing the virus' growth in the area, the KCHD recommends students in kindergarten and up wear face coverings in school buildings if going the in-person learning route.

Already, the state of Michigan is requiring face covering use for students from the sixth grade and up, for those medically able to, per Gov. Whitmer's MI Safe Start Plan and executive orders.

"Here at the [KCHD] we support that," said London. "We also, however, recommend mask use for all students, kindergarten and up, in as much as possible – in as much as they can can sustain that."

"These things are all very important for reducing the overall risk of transmission both in the classroom, but also in the community. As our students, our children, and our faculty in the schools go back to their families and go back to the rest of the community, it's very important that we're protecting them and that entire broader community."

The director acknowledges there are students medically unable to tolerate face coverings. He encourages families with such students to pursue virtual learning options for now in light.

"As a public health professional, I recommend that if you have a child that cannot wear a mask because of a medical reason or you're concerned about that, I strongly encourage you to think very carefully about choosing the virtual option," London said.

Grand Rapids Public Schools has already committed to online-only classes for the first nine weeks upon its district's late August return. Not all schools in Kent County, however, such as charter and private schools, are foregoing in-person learning. Colleges and universities in the area, such as Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University, will still be having in-person classes, in addition to online-only and hybrid options.


Kendall College of Art and Design moves forward with in-person learning at its downtown campus, with other options available

Another area college returning with in-person classes in the fall is Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD), located in downtown Grand Rapids.

Like other area colleges, KCAD will be offering online-only and hybrid model classes, in addition to in-the-classroom learning. The college shared more details with students and the community last week about what life will look like inside its buildings when its classes start on August 31.

As is the norm for educational institutions in the state, face coverings will be required for KCAD's on-site students, in addition to the urging of frequent hand sanitizing and reoganizing of student spaces to promote physical distancing. Other expectations include reduced class sizes, the closure of its bookstore, and designated directions for stairways.

The art and design-focused college will also soon be releasing an electronic symptom checker accessible from smartphones, computers, and tablets. All students will be expected to complete this electronic symptom checker daily before coming to campus.

"This semester we will all need to be flexible and patient, and practice understanding and empathy," said KCAD President Tara McCrackin. "This is new for everyone and we are all experiencing the impact of COVID-19 in various and very personal ways. We are all in this together."

Future updates on KCAD's fall semester plans and protocols will be available on its website.


Grand Rapids coalition developing month-long "The Bridge" event as alternative to now-canceled ArtPrize 2020

With ArtPrize 2020 called off this year due to pandemic concerns, a coalition of community organizations from Grand Rapids are currently developing an alternative arts and cultural event for the downtown area to take place in the fall.

Called "The Bridge," the event's planned for August 28 through October 3 and will feature public art, local musicians, food, and more. It aims to energize the local economy amid countless business closures in the area and reconnect the community after months of canceled social gatherings.

Developing the event are the City of Grand Rapids, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Experience Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids Chamber, and others. $50,000 has been allocated by the City of Grand Rapids for the event, with the funds originally planned for ArtPrize 2020.

"The Bridge is expected to be a locally-focused event built on previously planned and ongoing activities that can help stimulate the economy, support local arts organizations, and serve as a platform to amplify the important community conversations around racial justice and equity," the City of Grand Rapids said in a Wednesday statement.

Further details from The Bridge's organizers are still forthcoming. Present details are available in the City Commission's Tuesday meetings agenda.


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