Michigan updates quarantine guidance for masked students

LANSING — The state issued updated guidance Wednesday to help Michigan schools and local health departments navigate whether asymptomatic students who have been exposed to a coronavirus-infected student should quarantine at home or stay in school.

A change: Unvaccinated but masked students who were less than 3 feet from a COVID-positive student for at least 15 minutes can remain in school but only if they are tested daily for seven days after the exposure. Such a student previously would have been told to isolate for 10 days or seven days with a negative test.

The recommendation is among many included for the first time in a school-specific document for the general public at the start of the academic year. The state Department of Health and Human Services had previously provided county health departments with quarantine guidance for all types of settings including schools.

The state says fully vaccinated students can stay in school if they wear a mask and monitor for symptoms for 14 days, regardless of whether they were masked when they came in close contact with an infected student.

Unvaccinated students who were at least 3 to 6 feet away for 15 or more minutes can remain, too, if they and the COVID-positive student were masked. Exposed students should quarantine if they or the infected student were unmasked — seven days with a negative test or 10 days without one.

“When layered prevention strategies such as masking, distancing, testing, isolation and quarantine are applied consistently, school-associated transmission of COVID-19 is significantly reduced – which keeps kids in the classroom so they can learn,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement. “However, if someone is exposed to COVID at schools, it’s important for them to follow quarantine guidance to prevent spread to other children.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has declined to reinstate an indoor mask mandate for schools, instead leaving the decision to local health agencies and K-12 districts. At least 60% of students in traditional public schools are required to be masked, according to the governor’s office.

Whitmer and health officials continued to urge people ages 12 and older to get vaccinated. About 59% of them are fully vaccinated in Michigan compared to 62% nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state reported more than 2,300 additional virus cases and 51 deaths, including 10 older ones from a records review. Michigan’s infection and positivity rates have been rising for 2 1/2 months, but daily cases and deaths remain well below past peaks unlike in many southern states.

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