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07-16-2020 Masks ordered statewide; COVID case count climbs; COVID-19 return policies mask all at Wa

INTERCARE… mobile COVID-19 testing in Watervliet, Wednesday July 8 across from Tri-City Village in the Arclight parking lot. To get tested for COVID-19 people are not required to have a doctor’s order and do not have to be an InterCare patient. Friday, August 7, InterCare will be in Watervliet again in the parking lot just north of JOT Liquor downtown. (TCR photo by Amy Loshbough)

Masks ordered statewide; COVID case count climbs

By Jon Bisnett In further response to the uptick in Michigan COVID-19 cases, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed executive order EO 2020-147 last Friday. The order requires Michiganders to wear masks in all public indoor spaces and crowded outdoor spaces, further requiring business open to the public to refuse service to people without face coverings. Thus putting the Governor in the middle of yet another controversy over use of her powers versus constitutionality and civil liberty. The order goes on to make individual violations a misdemeanor offense subject to a $500 fine, while businesses that fail to comply would be putting their licenses at risk. Whitmer’s initial EO that required masks was EO109 issued May 29, so it has been a misdemeanor crime in Michigan to enter a grocery store in the state without a face mask for nearly six weeks. The difference is that it wasn’t being enforced, with the majority of people mostly complying. Order #147 is very different. It is the first time a face mask is required to be worn outdoors when a 6-foot distance is not possible. It has been a misdemeanor crime to be within six feet of another person who is not a member of your household since at least June 1 (see EO 110).

Reactions Van Buren County Sheriff Dan Abbott was one of the first to react in saying: “With the new executive order handed down by the Governor it puts a criminal penalty on not wearing a mask in public spaces. The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office will enforce any criminal law that was voted on and passed through the proper channels of government. This order was enacted by the Governor herself and all complaints that come into Sheriff’s Office will be referred to her office, the Michigan State Police or the Office of Attorney General. We will not take enforcement action on this order nor will we investigate complaints regarding this order or any other Executive Order.” The Michigan State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Charlie Owens says that small business owners are now caught in the crossfire. “On the one hand, it helps the business owner to be able to tell a customer that it’s the law and if they do not require a face covering then they could end up getting shut down,” but argues, “On the other hand, it puts them in the position of being the enforcement arm and arbiter of the governor’s orders.” The Small Business Administration of Michigan recommends that businesses open to the public: Create a written mask policy. Train staff on elements of the implementation of these new procedures. Post entrance signs of the legal requirement. Verbally notify non-compliant customers of the requirement. Discourage any kind altercation with customers and call the police if a customer refuses to leave the premises upon being asked, while keeping employees and other customers away from non-compliant customers. In a later clarification of his initial statement, Sheriff Dan Abbott said although his department would not respond to enforce mask wearing itself, they would react to any incident involving a confrontation over the issue, should that occur. Corporate statements from many recognized Michigan businesses, including major players such as Meijer and Harding’s, are asking customers to comply with the order and are implementing the full extent of the protocol, while asking customers to be patient and kind to the employees charged to enforce the policy. Whitmer now cautions schools What mostly seemed plausible when she released the “Return to School Roadmap” plan last week and said that she was “optimistic” about schools reopening, has begun to take a more cautionary tone. Only three days later, as new cases reached their highest point since May, Whitmer said, “If we want to be in a position in eight weeks from now where we can get our kids back in in-person education, this trend can’t continue, and that’s why masking up is going to be so important.”

National scene At least 40 states now report a significant increase in new COVID-19 cases. Late Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom rolled back the state’s reopening amid an increase in COVID-19 cases. Twenty-nine counties which comprise an estimated 80% of California’s population have been effectively locked down, now required to close indoor operations of fitness centers, laces of worship, offices for non-critical sectors, personal care services, and hair salons and barbershops. Additionally, Newsom is requiring all California counties – if they haven’t already – to close indoor operations for the following sectors: restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, family entertainment, zoos, museums and cardrooms. Bars also must close all operations. Further notable is the two largest school districts in the state, including Los Angeles, have recently announced they will open this fall for online distance learning only. The state of Florida has recently exploded, reporting more new cases in one day than the entire U.S. did over two months; with 15,300 new COVID cases this last Saturday. Health officials have deemed Miami as the epicenter of the virus in the sunshine state, calling it the “new Wuhan” as they plead that residents follow the recommended guidelines of masks and social distancing. “Miami began reopening and the case count went up dramatically,” said one University of Miami Health System official. Hospitals are roughly at 90% capacity with healthcare workers more the shortage than beds at the moment. Texas faces a continuing surge and has mandated face masks in public indoor spaces throughout the state, which is up 92% of new cases since May. Governor Gregg Abbot has spoken of possible new closures as the Texas health system is reaching near capacity. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warns of school opening this fall being in jeopardy based on the current trend.

THE ACADEMIC TOP TEN WHS SENIOR CLASS MEMBERS… will lead graduation commencement at a date and manner to be announced. Plans to have the traditional event in front of friends and families in the Panther Stadium have been dropped due to the spike in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks. See the WHS Senior Class photo and individual achievement awards on Page 8.

COVID-19 return policies mask all at Watervliet School Board meeting, alter high school commencement plans; parents & students offered 3 options for return to classes

By Joshua Coffin The Watervliet School Board met for their monthly meeting in the Watervliet High School auditorium on Monday, July 13, 2020. The fully masked and social distanced meeting was led by school superintendent Ric Seager to discuss matters on a wide spectrum of subjects. Graduation plans changed to drive-in approach as audience remains in vehicles As COVID-19 is still present and the issues that follow continue to arise, Watervliet’s high school graduation ceremony will not be taking place in the form they had planned. Originally, the school was to have their traditional commencement ceremony as normal but at a later date. As “normal” continues to be more difficult to define, they will still be having a graduation for their students. In an attempt to have a quasi-traditional graduation, the school’s ceremony will take on the form of a more “drive-in” approach where students are still able to walk across the stage, no band will be present, speakers will be able to take the stage, but all members of the audience will remain in their vehicles for the duration of the ceremony. According to Superintendent Seager, “That’s probably as good as we’re going to be able to do in this environment. If at any point before the drive-in style ceremony is held we enter Phase 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic, no ceremony will be able to be held.”

COVID Return Policy has three options Watervliet Public School’s plan for their return in the fall of 2020 was a critical point of the board meeting. At this point in time as the school plans for the upcoming year, they have planned out three options for the students and their parents to choose from for their return. Option A, titled “On-site”, is a fully in person return to school. In this option, students will be required to wear masks in the buildings and have their temperature taken regularly. However, when asked about the implementation of social distancing between students with the “on-site” option Seager said, “The idea of having six foot of space around every kid in option A, it’s not going to happen.” Option B, currently titled “Blended”, gives students the opportunity to learn online with their current Watervliet teachers while synchronized with the on-site students’ curriculum. Finally, option C, titled “Virtual”, allows students to attend school fully online but not taught through the Watervliet School System. Each student will be given the choice between these three options for their upcoming school year based on their preference for the return. Seager noted, “As we move into this next phase, I want to make a clear distinction that … the goal is to have rigorous academic learning that kids can expect to advance their learning and their education” as a result of the academic choices given to the students. Michigan is currently in Phase 4 of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing an in person return to school; but if there is a regression to Phase 3, an online learning approach would be the district’s only choice. The board’s decision will continue to unfold throughout this time. There has yet to be a vote for any official choice for the soon approaching school year as the board plans to hear more public opinions through meetings and surveys.

Golden Apple recipients At the meeting, five cherished members of Watervliet’s staff received their Golden Apple Award commemorating each of their retirements. Betsy Briggs was hired by Watervliet in 2015 and has been driving bus for students for 26 years prior. Sue Griffith was hired in 1985 and taught early elementary for 35 years. Beth Houseal was hired in 1994 and taught high school science and mathematics. Linda Palmitier was hired in 1986 and taught special education for 34 years. Jim Winter was hired in 1992 and taught social studies for 28 years and coached the girls basketball team. Each was presented their Golden Apple Award at the Monday meeting for their work at Watervliet Public Schools. “We need to thank these folks for their dedication, their service, their commitment to Watervliet Public Schools.” said Seager.

New principal At North School North Elementary School officially appointed a new principal during the meeting on Monday. No stranger to Watervliet, Bill Tiefenbach was appointed to fulfill the position as the elementary school’s principal. Prior to this, he served Watervliet Schools as director of technology as well as a business and technology educator. Tiefenbach was unanimously voted into the position by the school board. He replaced Rachel Kyncl in the position.

WATERVLIET’S GOLDEN APPLE RECIPIENTS… While keeping their distance, retirees pictured (from the left) Betsy Briggs, Linda Palmitier, Jim Winter, and Sue Griffith, receive their Golden Apple Awards at the July 13, 2020 school board meeting for their work at Watervliet Public Schools. Not pictured is Beth Houseal. (TCR photo by Joshua Coffin)

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