COVID-19 measures proposed to schools
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education make recommendation
MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan Department of Education are sending a letter to superintendents urging schools to reinforce actions that can help alleviate the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in anticipation of the highly transmissible omicron variant, MDHHS announced on Thursday.
Implementing prevention measures will protect students, teachers and staff, and will help maintain in-person learning, said MDHHS, which noted that the guidance is intended to keep school buildings open and allow students and staff to return to school safely after winter break.
MDHHS said it continues to reinforce that vaccination remains the best public health measure to protect Michiganders from COVID-19, with children ages 5 and up eligible to be vaccinated. Schools should encourage all who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and booster dose, and where possible, host vaccine clinics to facilitate access for students, families, teachers and staff.
The most effective way to prevent transmission within school buildings and reduce prolonged disruptions to in-person learning is to layer multiple prevention strategies as recommended by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MDHHS said.
“Our priority has remained keeping students safe,” MDHHS director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement. “Children ages 5 and older now can get vaccinated. In addition to vaccination, we strongly recommend universal masking for students, teachers and staff. We have the tools to keep Michiganders safe, and we must continue to use them.”
The CDC and MDHHS strongly recommend universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff and students and visitors age 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status. MDHHS indicated that as Michigan remains in high community transmission, universal indoor masking is a critical prevention strategy for all school districts to allow students to maintain in-person learning.
Mask use has been proven to substantially reduce transmission in school settings, it said.
MDHHS also recommends regular testing in all school settings. Frequent testing can help identify infected people, including those without symptoms who may be contagious, so measures can be taken to prevent further transmission or outbreaks, it said.
To support schools that incorporate COVID-19 testing into their safer school prevention plans, MDHHS is offering rapid antigen testing to K-12 schools through the MI Safe Schools Testing Program. To take advantage of this program, schools and school districts should visit bit.ly/3JwDdGY when submitting rapid antigen test orders.
Schools also can participate in the MI Backpack Program, which offers free at-home COVID-19 tests to students, their families, teachers and school staff. School districts interested in participating in this program can fill out a form available at bit.ly/3eCBXnB.
As omicron variant cases are anticipated to increase in Michigan, it is important for all schools to review their planned activities for events and gatherings, MDHHS said. It advises modifications to planned activities during and after school where the ability to maintain social distancing between people who live in different households cannot be maintained. Large gatherings involving 100 or more people should be held using remote technology or postponed, if not essential. Large gatherings would include events with large numbers of people from multiple households such as conferences or meetings, sporting events and concerts.
Wearing masks, washing hands often, maintaining social distance wherever possible, and getting staff and students vaccinated all remain important safety measures, MDHHS said. All prevention strategies provide some level of protection, and layered strategies implemented at the same time provide the greatest level of protection.
MDHHS on Thursday reported that more than 70% of Michiganders ages 16 and older have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but further progress must be made. As more individuals are vaccinated, it is less likely that the virus will circulate and mutate, avoiding the development of more transmissible and vaccine-resistant variants in the future, it said.
For more details, visit MDHHS-COVIDTestingSupport@michigan.gov. To find a vaccine, visit VaccineFinder.org. For more information on COVID-19 in general, visit Michigan.gov/Coronavirus.
LMAS reports new cases
The Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft District Health Department announced in a Wednesday Facebook post that it has added 123 cases of COVID-19 from Dec. 22-29.
The department noted that December marked the region’s highest number of cases at 724 and the highest number of deaths at nine during the COVID-19 pandemic in one month.
Vaccination rates, it pointed out, had barely increased.
LMAS urges people to get vaccinated/boosted; wear a mask in public settings or any crowded venue, including gatherings of family and friends from different households; get tested for COVID; and stay home if they don’t feel well, except to seek medical care.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.