By Jon King /

At least 74 new COVID-19 outbreaks were identified last week in Michigan’s K-12 schools, with 11 of them in Livingston County.

According to the state’s weekly coronavirus report issued on Tuesday, ten of the 11 outbreaks were in either Southwest Elementary School or Highlander Way Middle School in the Howell Public Schools District, with a total of 166 students and staff members identified as having confirmed cases. The eleventh outbreak was in Hartland's Farms Intermediate School, where four students were impacted.

The outbreaks have forced Southwest Elementary to close again today, the second day that “staffing constraints” related to the virus have kept the school shuttered. A communication from Southwest Principal Jennifer Goodwin stated that they expect to return to classroom instruction on Thursday when they “expect several staff members to return to school.”

The closures this week follow the identification last week by the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) that multiple COVID clusters had been identified at both Southwest Elementary and Highlander Way Middle School. Highlander Way was forced to close on Friday and will be using online learning for the remainder of this week.

Goodwin reminded parents that when their kids do return to classes they will need to wear a “well-fitted mask” through Friday, January 28th. It was also recommended that Southwest students undergo at least one “provider-administered” COVID test. In all, five clusters were identified at Southwest involving 55 cases among students and staff in multiple grades.

Goodwin said that while the LCHD has identified the cases as part of the clusters, “it does not mean that all of the individuals were in school while contagious, which leads to a difference between the number of cases reported by the LCHD and the number of cases reported by the school.”

Livingston County school districts have resisted putting across-the-board mask mandates into effect and instead have taken advantage of an alternate plan put forward by the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) allowing students to avoid quarantine if they wear a mask, do not have any symptoms and take an at-home COVID test provided by the district.