The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a new Epidemic Order today that is effective immediately and includes changes that will impact schools. Statewide, the new order makes changes to how districts will have to calculate indoor gathering limits for non-classroom gatherings and imposes a six person per table seating limit at gatherings, including in cafeterias (outdoor gathering limits are unchanged). The order also moves Region 6 (northern lower peninsula) into Phase 4, effectively bringing the entire state under the same set of regulations. There is also a change in face mask rules for organized sports, but Principals should note that the new rules are aimed at collegiate and professional athletics and are very unlikely to create changes for K-12 athletics. The new order also makes a couple of smaller changes that are, nonetheless, worth noting.
Let's break down the changes.
Indoor Gathering Limits
For indoor gathering limits, there are two changes that Principals will want to be aware of. First, the limit on the total number of people allowed at an indoor gathering dropped from 500 to 50 where the venue has no fixed seating capacity. The limit is still 500 for venues with a fixed seating capacity. Second, event organizers must ensure that "if attendees are seated at tables, no more than six persons may share a table and tables must be spaced a minimum of 6 feet apart."
To put these new requirement in context, here's a complete outline of the limits on attendance at indoor gatherings in non-residential venues with today's changes bolded:
- Indoor gatherings occurring at a non-residential venue are permitted only if:
- FOR FIXED SEATING: No more than 500 persons are gathered, and attendance is limited to 20% of the seating capacity of the venue.
- WITHOUT FIXED SEATING: No more than 50 persons (previously 500) are gathered, and attendance is limited to 20 persons per 1,000 square feet in each occupied room.
- All persons at the gathering wear a face mask.
- Only six people are permitted at each table.
The six person per table limit applies to all gatherings, including students gathering in a school cafeteria at lunch time. MASSP has already inquired with the Governor's office and MDHHS about how those limits might apply where districts are using cafeteria tables with large seating capacity where more than 6 students could sit at the table and still remain 6 feet apart. We will follow up when we have more information.
Region 6 Moving to Phase 4
For Region 6, moving to Phase 4 will mean that schools may have to adapt to several changes. Here's a quick review of what is going to change for schools in Region 6:
- The wearing of face masks in school is now mandatory for all students K-12. Previously, the wearing of face masks was strongly encouraged, but not mandatory in Region 6.
- In addition to the changes outlined above, the gathering limit for indoor gatherings with fixed seating is now set at 20% of the venue's total capacity. Previously, the limit was 25% of venue capacity in Region 6.
- Gatherings at retail stores, libraries or museums may not exceed 50% of the total occupancy limit established by the State Fire Marshal or a local fire marshal. Previously, no such limit existed. While this is not a change specific to schools, it will be a change for residents in Region 6 and is worth reviewing.
For reference, Region 6 includes the following counties: Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Crawford, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, and Emmet.
Face Masks for Organized Sports
The new Epidemic Order says that athletes "may also fulfill the face mask requirement through compliance with the MDHHS guidance on Additional Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play" (see page 3). This change does create a pathway for athletes to compete without wearing face masks. However, the requirements imposed by these additional measures were written with collegiate and professional athletics in mind and almost certainly will not be an option for high school athletes. For example, the additional measures required include:
- COVID-19 testing of all active players should be conducted at least 6 times per week with a turnaround time fast enough to confirm negative results within a day of unmasked close contact.
- During the two weeks before and after events, athletes should have no social contact outside of teammates, team staff/coaches, or their households. Athletes should completely avoid participation in non-team gatherings, and this should be strictly enforced by team staff and coaches.
Other Changes of Note
- The new Epidemic Order now refers to "face masks" rather than "facial coverings" and it defines "face mask" to mean "a tightly woven cloth or other multi-layer absorbent material that closely covers an individual’s mouth and nose," which is much more specific than the previous order.
- Language from the previous Epidemic Order prohibiting gatherings of employees "if not strictly necessary to perform job duties" was not included in this version. However, Principals should note that the MIOSHA emergency rules remain in effect and those rules require employers to "create a policy prohibiting in-person work for employees to the extent that their work activities can feasibly be completed remotely" so the change in the MDHHS order likely will not mean a change in practice for schools.
Below is a link to the full Epidemic Order. MDHHS has also updated its easy-to-read resources toolkit to reflect the changes made in today's order. Principals may want to share some or all of the following resources with staff or your community to help explain the changes: