On Thursday, Governor Whitmer detailed the six phases of her MI Safe Start Plan to re-engage Michigan’s economy and relax personal and social restrictions imposed by the pandemic. The governor also announced that Michigan is in phase three under this structure. So what are the six phases? And what does this mean for education?

Let's review…

The Phases

Under the MI Safe Start Plan, the six phases of the pandemic include:

  1. UNCONTROLLED GROWTH: The increasing number of new cases every day, overwhelming our health systems. 
  2. PERSISTENT SPREAD: We continue to see high case levels with concern about health system capacity. 
  3. FLATTENING: The epidemic is no longer increasing and the health-system's capacity is sufficient for current needs. 
  4. IMPROVING: Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining. 
  5. CONTAINING: Continued case and death rate improvements, with outbreaks quickly contained. 
  6. POST-PANDEMIC: Community spread not expected to return. 

Governor Whitmer announced that Michigan is currently in phase three, the flattening phase. The plan includes the questions and sample criteria that Michigan will use in evaluating when and whether to progress between phases:

  • Is the epidemic growing, flattening, or declining? This includes evaluating things like the number of new cases per million people, trends in new daily cases, and the percentage of total COVID-19 tests that come back positive.
  • Does our health system have the capacity to address current needs as well as a potential increase, should new cases emerge? This includes evaluating things like hospital capacity and PPE availability.
  • Are our testing and tracing efforts sufficient to monitor the epidemic and control its spread? This includes evaluating testing capacity and tracing and containment effectiveness.

Education Within the Plan

Bottom line: under this structure, Michigan would need to reach phase five before in-person instruction could resume. But just looking at that one metric doesn't give us a full picture. In-person instruction is crucial, but it doesn't speak to how schools are going to handle things like lunch, locker access, bussing, student gatherings, and all the other components that make up school.

The plan was not written to answer every question that a school leader would need to have answered, but let's look at five factors for each phase 3-6 (education, social distancing, face coverings, gatherings, and outdoor recreation) to get an idea of what school might look like at that phase

PHASE 3: FLATTENING

  • Education: Remote learning in K-12 and higher education
  • Social Distancing: In place, maintain a six-foot distance from other when outdoors / in public
  • Face coverings: Required
  • Gatherings: Not permitted
  • Outdoor Recreation: Walking, hiking, biking, golfing, boating permitted

PHASE 4: IMPROVING

  • Education: Remote learning in K-12 and higher education, summer programs in small groups
  • Social Distancing: In place, maintain a six-foot distance from other when outdoors / in public
  • Face coverings: Required
  • Gatherings: Limited to small groups with social distancing
  • Outdoor Recreation: Walking, hiking, biking, golfing, boating permitted. Activities permitted in small groups with social distancing

PHASE 5: CONTAINING

  • Education: Live instruction in K-12 and higher education
  • Social Distancing: In place, maintain a six-foot distance from other when
  • outdoors / in public
  • Face coverings: Required wherever possible
  • Gatherings: Increased but still limited-sized groups with social distancing
  • Outdoor Recreation: All outdoor recreation allowed

PHASE 6: POST-PANDEMIC

  • All businesses and organizations open with some lasting safety requirements.
  • Minimal to no lasting limitations on personal and/or social activities.

Other Considerations

Three more things to know about the MI Safe Start Plan:

  1. The plan takes a (somewhat) regional approach to reopening, so it will be possible for different parts of the state to be at different phases and able to do different things. It is unclear how this works with things like ISD-based instruction, dual enrollment, or similar situations where students in schools on the border between regions might cross regional boundaries. How the state will manage accountability, assessment, and other statewide programs when schools across the state are in different phase of reopening is also unclear. See the map on page 3.
  2. While the plan is primarily aimed at economic restart, schools can still look at what the plan outlines as workplace best-practices when considering what you might need to plan for as you look ahead at the fall. Three in particular stand out:
    1. Access control: Implementing best practices to quickly identify and catalogue potential introductions of COVID-19 into the workplace. Examples of this include on-sight temperature checks and intake procedures for visitors.
    2. Social distancing: Minimizing levels of close contact within the workplace to limit the spread of COVID-19 among workers. This includes things like restrictions on cafeteria access, limits on in-person meeting size, and physical barriers between workspaces.
    3. Access control: Implementing best practices to quickly identify and catalogue potential introductions of COVID-19 into the workplace. This includes things like frequent disinfection and cleaning, availability of hand washing stations, and limits on shared tool use.
    4. PPE: Ensuring all employees have access to personal protective equipment to keep them from both contracting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus. This includes things like face masks (which need to be worn until phase 6), gloves, and face shields.
  3. The plan spells out that it is also possible to move backwards if risk increases and if we stop adhering to safe practice. If you look at the risk level of K-12 education (see slide 17 of the Governor's presentation from Thursday, linked below), you'll note that schools have the highest risk of any sector (more than outpatient healthcare and higher education), meaning that schools have the very real potential to push Michigan back into an earlier phase if there is a school-based outbreak. In other words, we can anticipate that schools will have to meet significant safety conditions in order to open since the risk to other sectors of the economy is so great.

At 15 pages, the plan document is not terribly long and worth a read. You can find it here.

The accompanying slide deck is available here.