MDHHS issues school guidelines
MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday issued recommendations for schools to help prevent transmission of COVID-19 within school buildings to reduce disruptions to in-person learning and help protect those who are not fully vaccinated.
“I am pleased with the progress of our vaccination efforts in Michigan, with 56 percent 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, in a statement. “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, MDHHS said. Schools can layer multiple prevention strategies developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce transmission of the virus within school buildings.
This will help minimize disruptions to in-person learning and help protect the people who are not fully vaccinated, which currently includes all children under age 12.
Key prevention strategies in schools include:
≤ promoting COVID-19 vaccination for eligible staff and students.
≤ correctly and consistently using well-fitted masks that cover the nose and mouth.
≤ social distancing — physical distancing, including cohorting children together to reduce potential exposures.
≤ COVID-19 screening, testing and contact tracing. This involves encouraging students and staff to stay home if sick or having COVID-19 symptoms, encouraging students and staff to get tested for COVID-19 if they are having symptoms or are not fully vaccinated and are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19, and conducting screening. It also involves implementing contact tracing and quarantines while collaborating with the local health department.
Other measures include promoting hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes, routine cleaning to help maintain healthy facilities, and avoiding crowded and/or poorly ventilated indoor activities.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently announced nearly $49 million in grant funding to support 19 local projects that will continue conducting COVID-19 wastewater surveillance and implement COVID-19 variant strain testing of wastewater.
A local grant of $628,935 was awarded to the lab of Dr. Josh Sharp, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at Northern Michigan University.
The CDC funding will reinitiate COVID-19 wastewater monitoring established during a fall 2020 pilot project. The state’s SARS-CoV-2 Epidemiology-Wastewater Evaluation and Reporting Network uses locally coordinated projects to conduct wastewater surveillance for COVID-19.
Wastewater is tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus — which causes COVID-19 disease — that is shed in feces into Michigan public sewer systems. Partners include local health departments, tribal nations, wastewater treatment and environmental engineering agencies, colleges and universities, and public, private and academic laboratories, MDHHS said.
Funding for the project will continue through July 31, 2023. As COVID-19 cases decrease across the state, wastewater monitoring can provide useful information regarding disease detection and spread on a larger community level. This can be especially important as clinical testing rates decrease, MDHHS said.
“Wastewater surveillance is so important to identifying COVID-19 infections and community transmission early, and is especially important as we move to a new phase of fighting this pandemic,” Khaldun said in a statement. “If our rates of infection start to increase, this network may provide an early warning sign and help communities target public health actions to prevent further spread.”
According to MDHHS, it is also one of the few surveillance methods that can provide information on the virus within populations that are not showing signs of illness or who do not seek health care.
In the pilot project, participating local health departments and universities focused clinical testing recommendations and communication efforts when increased levels of the virus were detected in wastewater.
MDHHS indicated that continued monitoring will provide timely and consistent wastewater data to support COVID-19 public health responses within 33 local health jurisdictions with project sampling sites. This data will include information on SARS-CoV-2 presence, trends and preliminary detections of variant strains found in wastewater.
To view data from the pilot project, visit the Michigan COVID-19 Wastewater Dashboard at bit.ly/2Sw3uzI. For more information on wastewater monitoring, visit the Wastewater Surveillance for COVID-19 website at bit.ly/3xQZicM.
Erickson updates NMU community
In a Wednesday letter to students, faculty and staff, NMU President Fritz Erickson reported that as expected, the Michigan Occupational and Health Administration announced on Tuesday that it’s aligning its COVID-19 emergency rules with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rules, effective immediately.
The action also puts the MIOSHA requirements in alignment with the recently announced lifting of mask and gathering restrictions by MDHHS, he said.
“MIOSHA will no longer require mask wearing, daily health screenings and social distancing in the workplace, except in health care settings or other places where people with COVID are expected to be present, and it gives the state’s employers the opportunity to establish their own pandemic protocols regarding these areas,” Erickson said.
However, he stressed that MIOSHA urges employers to follow existing CDC and OSHA recommendations.
Regarding the current CDC and OSHA recommendations to institutions of higher education, Erickson said that NMU’s pandemic protocol will be to continue to have all individuals who are not vaccinated wear masks when inside NMU facilities, at least for the remainder of the summer.
Additionally, NMU will continue to ask all within the on-campus community, vaccinated or not, to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms on a daily basis. “However, the university will no longer require documentation of daily monitoring, as we have been in some areas,” Erickson said. “NMU will also lift any remaining social distancing protocols and room capacity limits.
“To be clear, there is no mask requirement for individuals on campus who are fully vaccinated. However, at this time, students, faculty, staff and visitors who are not vaccinated should continue to wear a face mask when indoors on campus except when in a private living or work space, eating or drinking in a designated eating area, receiving medical care or if you have a medical exemption to not wear a mask. When we know more about our overall on-campus vaccination levels, we will reconsider this protocol.”
Erickson reported that the NMU Executive Council has approved a recommendation to reopen the Berry Events Center and Superior Dome to the public on July 19.
“For the dome, this includes the walking program,” Erickson said. “The dome is currently having its carpet field replaced and the Berry has work being done on the ice surface floor, both until mid-July.”
The Physical Education Instruction Facility, he said, is already open to the public with the exception of the saunas.
Erickson thanked the NMU community for its patience during the next transition stage, noting that many of its protocol decisions will be finalized and some current ones possibly changed after Thursday when it is hoped NMU has a good idea of its vaccination levels and the potential for COVID-19 transmission for this fall.
How the Upper Peninsula will be affected by another variable is a factor, too, he said.
“While we’ve not heard that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is in the U.P. yet, its existence in Michigan is a concern for protecting NMU community members who are unvaccinated or have weak immune systems,” Erickson said. “I know we all want to just throw our hands up in the air and say, ‘We’re done with this pandemic,’ but the reality is that COVID-19 can still harm and we have to do what we can to protect against that as we also do all that we can to return to as close to a pre-pandemic state as possible.
“The balancing act continues.”
Airport providing test
MDHHS said it is offering free antigen testing at Sawyer International Airport from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
People who are unvaccinated and traveling into Michigan are encouraged to get tested. However, MDHHS said anyone who wants to may get tested.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.