Whitmer releases guidelines for schools returning to in-person instruction in the fall

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released a set of guidelines Tuesday for schools reopening for in-person instruction in the fall to keep staff and students safe from the spread of COVID-19.

“These requirements and recommendations will not always be easy to implement, but they’re absolutely necessary,” Whitmer said.

The plan is aligned with the six phases of Whitmer’s MI Safe Start plan for reopening Michigan’s economy.

During phase four of the MI Safe Start plan – which a majority of the state is currently in – schools would be required to implement a strict set of measures, including:

  • Requiring staff to wear face masks at all times
  • Requiring students to wear face masks in hallways and other common areas except during meals
  • Requiring students in grades 6 through 12 to wear face masks in classrooms
  • Strongly recommending scheduled handwashing with soap and water every 2 to 3 hours
  • Strongly recommending desks be spaced six feet apart and arranged to all face the same direction
  • Recommending staggered hallway movements at incremental intervals to make it possible to keep six feet of distance between people in the hallways
  • Recommending hallways be directed to flow in one direction or divided with either side flowing in the same direction
  • Requiring schools to cooperate with local public health departments to implement screening protocols for students and staff
  • Prohibiting indoor assemblies that bring together students from more than one classroom
  • Recommending classrooms or outdoor areas be used for meals
  • Recommending that meal times be staggered to allow social distancing in the cafeteria if that space was being used
  • Requiring athletics to follow MHSAA guidelines. Up to 100 spectators would be allowed for outdoor events as long as face masks are worn and social distancing is implemented. Spectators would continue to not be allowed into indoor events.
  • Requiring students to use hand sanitizer before entering a school bus
  • Requiring school buses be disinfected after completing every transit route

If the state moves into phase five of the MI Safe Start plan, restrictions – like the face masks requirement – would be eased to being strongly recommended rather than being required.

During phases one through three of the MI Safe Start plan, schools would be required to be closed for in-person instruction.

School districts will be required to produce and approve three preparedness and response plans – one for each of the three sets of restrictions – by August 15 or seven days before the start of the school year, whichever comes first.

No regions of the state are currently in phases one through three, though Whitmer hinted that it may be necessary to reimplement some restrictions as cases of COVID-19 in the state begin to spike.

“If we see a sustained spike, that’s precisely what would take us back to phase three,” Whitmer said. “That’s not something I’m announcing, it’s not necessarily a conversation that we’re having right now, but I’ve always said we’re going to stay nimble.”

Whitmer said the state will allocate $256 million to helping school districts implement the plans.

Michigan had 63,870 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state Monday, and 5,947 people have died from the virus.

Of the confirmed cases, 2,186 are in Genesee County, and 263 people in the county have died from the virus.

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