Health Department, DPS working to name virus after kindergarten student dies

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A kindergarten student has died and multiple other elementary students at Marcus Garvey Academy are sick with an unconfirmed illness, according to the district and city health department.

Detroit Public Schools Community District says the outbreak happened at Marcus Garvey Academy earlier this week. While the sick students are showing flu-like symptoms, the health department and school system are still working to name the virus going around.

The district made the decision to close the school building until Monday, May 8th while the building gets a deep cleaning.

“Right now, so far we just been doing home school. They been on I-ready on their laptops,” said Theodore Burton who has two students at Marcus Garvey.

Burton was at the park with his 1st and 4th-grade students Thursday morning. He says with few answers from the district about the illness, he’s concerned about his 1st grader’s risk.

“I was really scared because my daughter, you know I got two daughters that go there. I was very nervous trying to figure out what’s going on. What’s coming? Is it the flu? I know April is allergy season but I thought Corona,” said Burton.  

The city health department is now warning parents within the school to look for symptoms like fever, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and abdominal pain.

Parents who live in the neighborhood say they’re concerned about the unconfirmed virus spreading.

“Of course, I feel absolute compassion for that child’s family because I couldn’t imagine especially not being able to name the thing that took (their) life,” said one parent who didn’t want to be identified.

The parent says although her student recently started school at nearby Grace and Lee Boggs School, many neighborhood kids share the same facilities, like parks.

“I know parents that we meet there for play dates and there are also neighborhood and kids I presume from Marcus Garvey who live in the neighborhood that share that park,” she added. ” It creates anxiety because at the start of the pandemic, I didn’t have to worry about it so much but now she engages with a lot of people and it’s just overall scary.”

Pediatric doctors at The Children’s Hospital of Michigan say they can’t speak to the specifics of the Marcus Garvey outbreak as they have not treated any students.

“We love the healthy, running-around, rambunctious children so anytime we hear about a death it’s always unfortunate,” said Dr. Tiffney Widner with The Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

The health system says while a flu or flu-like outbreak is atypical at this time of year, it is still possible.  

“Even though it’s May and we would expect the flu season to be gone, we know that we still can have outbreaks as late as May in terms of flu,” said Dr. Widner. “The typical symptoms that you’re going to expect are your fever, runny nose, congestion, cough. Some individuals may present with myalgia or muscle pains in addition to those symptoms that I mentioned before.”

Dr. Tiffany Widner says parents should keep sick children home and consider vaccinations to prevent serious illness because COVID-19, flu, and other respiratory viruses can wreak havoc on anyone.

“We typically speak about your at-risk populations being less than two (years of age), your elderly, your immunocompromised, those who have chronic illnesses but unfortunately healthy children pass away from flu,” said Dr. Widner.

Widner says parents should bring their children to the emergency room immediately if they present any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nose flaring
  • Retractions or skin sinking in around ribs/ neck

“This is not typical. We don’t have high numbers even now but flu is still around and as long as flu is still around people are still at risk. Still, something you want to consider discussing with your primary care provider if your child hasn’t been vaccinated already whether or not this is an appropriate time to have your child vaccinated,” said Widner.
7 Action News reached out to the school district and health department Thursday for further details on the illness. A health department spokesperson wasn’t immediately available. The school district released a statement Wednesday but declined further comment citing the personal medical nature of the news.