State suggests layered approach to COVID prevention in schools



MECOSTA COUNTY — With the beginning of school right around the corner and new cases of COVID-19 on the rise, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has issued updated guidelines for keeping students and staff safe.

But instead of issuing mandatory orders, as in the past, the new recommendations are meant to provide schools districts guidance on assessing risk levels and implementing prevention strategies based on the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At the core of the state guidelines is the use of multiple layers of protection in schools, as recommended by the CDC. They include:

1. Promoting vaccination against COVID-19 for eligible staff and students.

2. Consistent and correct mask use. The CDC recommends universal masking inside schools, regardless of vaccination status.

3. Physical distancing maintained at least three feet between students within classrooms.

4. Use of a frequent SARS-CoV-2 screening testing program.

5. Ventilation, such as opening windows and using child-safe fans, as well as avoiding crowded/poorly ventilated areas by moving activities outside when possible.

6. Promote proper handwashing techniques and covering coughs and sneezes.

7. Encourage students and staff to stay home if sick or having COVID-19 symptoms, and get tested for COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.

8. Contact tracing and quarantining in collaboration with local health department.

“Because the school environment brings together groups of individuals who cannot be fully vaccinated, a variety of COVID-19 prevention measures can be adopted to operate schools more safely,” the MDHHS states in a news release. “All prevention strategies provide some level of protection, and layered strategies implemented at the same time provide the greatest level of protection.”

In addition, the new guidelines lists factors for school districts, in conjunction with advice from local health departments, to use when determining mitigation strategies:

• Level of community transmission of COVID-19.

• COVID-19 vaccination coverage in the community and among students, teachers and staff.

• Use of a frequent SARS-CoV-2 screening testing program for students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated.

• COVID-19 outbreaks or increasing trends in the school or surrounding community.

• Ages of children served in the school and risk associated with school, extracurricular and social activities.

“COVID-19 prevention strategies remain critical to protect students, teachers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated, especially in areas of moderate-to-high community transmission levels,” the release states. “These strategies can be tailored based on building, district, and community needs.

“The main goal of implementing prevention measures is to protect students, teachers and staff, and maintain in-person learning. Prevention strategies can allow in-person learning to be maintained, even during high levels of transmission in the surrounding community.”

The latest data, as of Tuesday, Aug. 10, according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker:

• Mecosta County: Moderate level of community transmission with 33.1% of the total population fully vaccinated

• Osceola County: Substantial level of community transmission with 33.8% of the total population fully vaccinated.

• Lake County: Substantial level of community transmission with 49.3% of the total population fully vaccinated.

Note: The CDC has four levels of community transmission low, moderate, substantial and high. Last week, the CDC issued interim guidelines recommending people wear masks indoors if they live in areas of high or substantial transmission regardless of their vaccination status.

To view the full guidelines for schools from the MDHHS, visit