That includes things like wearing a mask, social distancing, and cohorting children to reduce potential exposures, which are all protocols both students and their families have become used to in the last 18 months.
“I am pleased with the progress of our vaccination efforts in Michigan, with 56% of Michiganders age 12 and older having received at least their first dose of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “These vaccines are the reason transmission of the virus in Michigan is at the lowest point in a year. However, as the school environment brings together large groups of individuals who may not yet be vaccinated, MDHHS is issuing this guidance to help protect Michiganders of all ages.”
To help schools prepare for the return of people to indoor settings in the fall, the guidance outlines mitigation measures designed to protect students, teachers, and staff, and maintain in-person learning. Schools can layer multiple prevention strategies developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce transmission of the virus within school buildings.
This, the MDHHS guidelines say, will help minimize disruptions to in-person learning and help protect the people who are not fully vaccinated, which currently includes all children under the age of 12 years. All prevention strategies provide some level of protection, and layered strategies implemented at the same time provide the greatest level of protection.
Key prevention strategies recommended by the MDHHS include:
- Promoting COVID-19 vaccination for eligible staff and students.
- Correctly and consistently using well-fitted masks that cover the nose and mouth. CDC recommendations for when to wear a mask in school settings.
- Social Distancing: Physical distancing, including cohorting children together to reduce potential exposures.
- COVID-19 Screening, Testing and Contact Tracing. This includes encouraging students and staff to stay home if sick or having COVID-19 symptoms. It also includes encouraging students and staff to get tested for COVID-19 if having symptoms or if they are not fully vaccinated and are a close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Conducting screening, implementing contact tracing and quarantine, and collaborating with the local health department is also part of that process.
- Maintaining healthy environments, including promoting handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes. Routine cleaning to help maintain healthy facilities is also recommended. And avoiding crowded and/or poorly ventilated indoor activities (e.g., engaging in outdoor activities when possible and increasing ventilation for indoor activities) is also in the guidelines.The guidelines are defined as recommendations by the state, and many of them are either common sense or protocols that local school districts have expected to make permanent in a post-COVID-19 world. Additional cleaning and the promotion of handwashing are things many Macomb County school districts have already implemented into their prevention protocols. But the issue of wearing a mask for another year of in-person school may be something that will receive push back from both students and parents.Macomb Intermediate School District Superintendent Mike DeVault said that is an issue county superintendents have been looking at for several weeks. For now, DeVault said, the MISD position will be that face coverings will not be required. However, DeVault said students and staff who have not been vaccinated should consider using face covering while in crowded settings.”That’s the position school districts will take for fall,” DeVault said. “Given the data, and feedback from the state, that’s where we at today. Obviously, things can change if the metrics or if the (COVID-19) variant has an effect on our region. We’ve been blessed we have as many vaccinations as we’ve had. That’s what’s driven down the numbers. That’s the message we’re giving to parents and employees as of today.”As of June 24, just under 48% of the Macomb County population has had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 44% have been fully vaccinated. Currently, anyone over the age of 12 is eligible for the vaccine.DeVault said the common themes should remain: those of continuing to encourage people to get vaccinated and to remain home if they have COVID-19 symptoms. Also, students and staff should continue to be diligent with handwashing and schools likewise should continue their higher standards of sanitizing.
But he said he doesn’t think schools are at the point yet where showing proof of vaccination is required to not wear a mask inside school buildings. Mask wearing would be hard to mandate.
“I think people are way more comfortable than they were two months ago,” DeVault said. “I think if the numbers continue to get better the way they are now, we’ll be opening school this fall in a way that will be closer to a couple of years ago than the way we did last fall. Some parents will still want their children to wear masks, and that’s just fine.”On Monday, the Michigan Department of Transportation released a reminder that everyone must continue to continue to mask up on airplanes, trains, public transit, and intercity vehicles, including vans and buses, in compliance with the federal face mask requirement issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and an order issued by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).