On Friday, August 13, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released updated guidance strongly recommending that schools require masking for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status. This guidance has been updated to reflect the most current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control on masking and COVID-19 prevention strategies to help schools remain open.
MDHHS recommends that all schools adopt policies to:
- Promote vaccination for eligible students, staff and families.
- Require universal masking for students, staff and visitors regardless of community transmission rate or vaccination status.
- Implement layered prevention measures.
MDHHS and the CDC have been recommending universal masking since at least June, the change in this updated guidance to “strongly recommends” simply underscores the earlier recommendations and should come as no surprise to educators.
Additionally, MDHHS reiterated the key strategies recommended by the CDC to keep schools safer, which are outlined below:
- Promoting Vaccination against COVID-19 for eligible staff and students. Vaccination has proven incredibly 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.
- Requiring Consistent and Correct Mask Use for all
- Schools should mandate universal masking for students, staff, teachers and visitors. CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status. This prevention strategy is crucial to allowing students to maintain in-person learning.
- Local health departments should work with schools to adopt universal masking policies.
- Mask use has been proven to substantially reduce transmission in school settings.
- CDC has recommendations for proper use of masks.
- CDC’s order requires all persons – regardless of vaccination status – to wear masks on public transportation, including school buses.
- Physical Distancing 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, and between educators/staff who are not fully vaccinated.
- Mask use by all students, educators, staff, and visitors is particularly important when physical distance cannot be maintained.
- Because of the importance of in-person learning, schools should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement. When it is not possible to maintain a 3 foot physical distance, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking, screening testing, and improved ventilation, to help reduce transmission risk.
- Screening 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 their safer school prevention plans, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is offering rapid antigen testing to Pre-K-12 schools through the MI Safe Schools Testing Program.
- Improving ventilation by opening multiple doors and windows, using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows, and making changes to the HVAC or air filtration systems.
- Avoiding crowded and/or poorly ventilated indoor activities (e.g., engaging in outdoor activities when possible).
- Open or crack windows in buses and other forms of transportation to improve air circulation, if doing so does not pose a safety risk.
- Handwashing and Respiratory Etiquette: Promoting handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes.
- Staying Home When Sick and Getting Tested
- Encouraging students and staff to stay home if sick or having COVID-19 symptoms.
- Encouraging students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested for COVID-19 if having symptoms or if they are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19.
- Contact Tracing, in combination with quarantine, and collaborating with the local health department.
- Cleaning and Disinfection: 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. CDC has information on routine cleaning to help maintain healthy facilities.
As always, MASSP will continue to keep you informed of any changes to this guidance as they arise.