As projections on the ramifications of the delta variant of COVID-19 remain in a state of flux, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued updated recommendations for schools to help prevent the transmission of the coronavirus within district buildings, reduce disruption to in-person learning, and help protect vulnerable individuals and those who are not fully vaccinated.
Many students have yet to be vaccinated — with students under the age of 12 being ineligible for the vaccine — therefore layered preventative measures such as universal masking are encouraged to keep kids, staff and families safe. The new state guidelines reflect updated recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are committed to ensuring Michigan students and educators are safe in the classroom, including those who may not yet be vaccinated,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the state department. “MDHHS is issuing this guidance to help protect Michiganders of all ages. We continue to urge all eligible residents to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, as it is our best defense against the virus and the way we are going to end this pandemic.”
Key strategies recommended by the CDC for schools include:
Vaccination has proven effective as the leading public health prevention strategy. Promoting vaccination can help schools more safely maintain in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status, to maintain in-person learning. The agency also suggests local health departments work with schools to adopt universal masking policies. The CDC’s order requires all persons — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks on public transportation, including school buses.
The CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by students, teachers and staff, regardless of vaccination status. A distance of at least 6 feet is recommended between students and educators.
Mask use by all students, educators, staff and visitors is particularly important when physical distance cannot be maintained. When it is not possible to maintain a 3-foot physical distance, it is important to layer multiple other prevention strategies — such as indoor masking, screening testing and improved ventilation — to help reduce transmission risk.
Testing identifies infected people, including those without symptoms who may be contagious, so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission or outbreaks. To support schools that incorporate COVID-19 testing into safer school prevention plans, MDHHS is offering rapid antigen testing to pre-K-12 schools through the MI Safe Schools Testing Program.
Improve ventilation by opening multiple doors and windows, using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows and making changes to air filtration systems. Avoid crowded and/or poorly ventilated indoor activities. Open or crack windows in buses and other forms of transportation to improve air circulation, if doing so does not pose a safety risk.
The CDC recommends promoting hand-washing as well as covering coughs and sneezes.
Encourage students and staff to stay home if sick or having COVID-19 symptoms. Encourage students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested for COVID-19 if they experience symptoms or have close contact of someone who has COVID-19.
Contact tracing, in combination with quarantine, and collaborating with the local health department is an important protective step.
Cleaning once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove potential virus that may be on surfaces. Disinfecting — using disinfectants on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency COVID-19 list — removes any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces any risk of spreading infection. The CDC has information on routine cleaning to help maintain healthy facilities.
To learn more about COVID-19 in Michigan, visit michigan.gov/coronavirus.