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Michigan urges schools to delay events or make them virtual

December 30, 2021 GMT

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s health and education departments on Thursday urged schools to postpone or make virtual large gatherings, including sporting events, if they are not “essential” — as COVID-19 cases spike across the state.

The recommendation, intended to keep schools open when classes resume after the winter break next week, was included in a letter to K-12 superintendents and charter school directors. Large events involve at least 100 people and include athletic competitions, concerts and meetings, said Elizabeth Hertel and Michael Rice, who lead the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

“MDHHS 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,” they wrote, citing an expected rise in infections caused by the highly contagious omicron variant. They did not say how to assess if an event is essential. The guidance does not apply to school lunches.

The top officials also reinforced vaccinations, universal masking and regular testing in all K-12 settings. At least one district, Pontiac, is switching to remote classes for at least two weeks because of the surge.

For now, the state health department will not mirror new recommendations from U.S. officials reducing isolation restrictions for people infected with the coronavirus from 10 days to five.

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Late Wednesday, the agency said it will review supporting evidence for the guidance issued earlier in the week. It also will wait for additional information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, specifically for special populations and high-risk settings.

That may come early next week.

“In the interim, MDHHS will retain current quarantine and isolation guidelines including guidelines for K-12 and congregate care settings,” the agency said.

That means students who test positive for COVID-19 should stay home for 10 days after getting sick or 10 days after the test if they have no symptoms.

The state and federal recommendations, while not binding, are used by local health departments. Several have issued orders spelling out isolation and quarantine rules. Violators can face civil and criminal penalties.

Norm Hess, executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, said many health departments are reevaluating their orders or recommendations for schools and the general public.

“Some local health departments will wait for this additional guidance, while others will move ahead based on the information they know,” he said.

Kent County, for instance, said it is aligning with the CDC protocols but noted the guidelines may not apply to schools, congregate settings or those working with people in high-risk groups. Ingham County adjusted its order for schools to incorporate the five-day isolation and quarantine periods.

Michigan, already grappling with a surge of infections fueled by the delta variant, is bracing for omicron. It may be more mild, though data is limited.

The state on Wednesday recorded case counts that shattered the record, reporting nearly 13,000 a day — almost a third more than the peak set in 2020.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00