MDHHS ending enforcement of school quarantine guidelines

Local health departments must choose to set own contact tracing orders
School districts roll back on in-person learning as COVID cases surge in the state
Posted at 2:16 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 22:19:06-04

MICHIGAN — Local health departments will no longer require area school districts to enforce the state’s COVID-19 quarantine guidelines, which says students in close contact to a person with COVID-19 must stay home.

Health officials in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, and Ionia counties still do recommend districts use the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ guidelines, although they listed declining COVID-19 metrics and increased access to vaccinations as reasons why they will not issue an order requiring districts to comply with them.

In a news release, the health departments said they received advisement from MDHHS on May 5 that said enforcement of the school quarantine guidelines must now be by local health department order. The Kent County Health Department says the departments reached out after receiving questions from schools, which prompted the response. It’s not clear why local departments thought the guidelines carried the rule of law.

“Our students and parents, they can continue to know that the Kent County Health Department is here to work with our school districts just as we have throughout this whole pandemic,” said Teresa Branson, KCHD deputy administrative health officer. “We’re working very closely with our superintendents and districts just to encourage them to continue to do what they’ve been doing which is to take every measure that they can to help mitigate the risk of spread in the school.”

The new recommendation doesn’t apply to school employees who must isolate and face masks are still required in the classroom. Rules do not change for students who test positive. Schools will also still contact trace.

Branson said the health departments will continually monitor trends and respond with orders as needed, although she stressed their goal is to develop independent guidance for schools. Officials plan to consult other infectious disease experts over the next few days.

TRACK: Use FOX 17's interactive coronavirus map to track the latest numbers on the pandemic in West Michigan

In a statement to FOX 17, the Kent Intermediate School District says area superintendents learned about the change Friday. In a meeting with Kent County Health Department Administrative Health Officer Dr. Adam London told the district there will be new guidance next week on a county level about how schools should handle COVID cases in the classroom.

“The COVID-19 mitigation strategies our schools have implemented appear to be working,” said Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler. “A more targeted approach with close contact quarantine in schools will dramatically reduce the potential for this disruption for the remainder of the school year and brings with it the promise of a more normal school year for 2021-22."

Rockford ending all tracing immediately:

In a letter to parents, Dr. Michael Shibler, Superintendent at Rockford Public Schools says the district will not quarantine students based on a close contact with a COVID-positive person while in school. Students who are ordered to quarantine by the county health department because of a close contact outside of the classroom will be denied entry into school until their quarantine ends.

Rockford schools will inform parents and guardians of any close contacts their student has with a COVID case.

Shilber went on to say that all students currently in isolation because of a school-based close contact will be eligible to return to the classroom on Monday, May 10.

Any students with symptoms must stay home, Shibler wrote.

Parents FOX17 spoke to were generally happy with the decision, but still want to keep their students safe.

“It was very great news for all of us to hear, we were super pleased,” said Chris Carey, a Rockford parent.

“As a parent it’s frustrating because they’re doing everything they’re supposed to do,” said Heather Clarey, another parent.

Grandville Public Schools: Close contacts will no longer require to be quarantined

In a letter to parents, students and community members, Superintendent Roger Bearup says Grandville Public Schools will not require close contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to enter quarantine.

“The District has identified just over 300 positive cases during the 2020-2021 school year,” says Bearup. “ Of those, only 4 are the result of in school exposure to COVID. Put another way, over 98% of our positive cases have not resulted in a second positive case within our schools.”

Read the full letter here.

Holland Public Schools staying the course:

Holland Public Schools says it will continue to follow the recommendations of the Ottawa County Health Department and the requirement of the Allegan County Health Department until its board of education can discuss the issue at a meeting on Monday.

In an email to FOX17, a spokeswoman for the Allegan County Health Department said based on their current data, the department will, "continue to handle each case relating to COVID-19, or other communicable diseases, on its own merit in the best interest of public health, under applicable law and in consideration of MDHHS and CDC guidance."

“I can empathize with how challenging information has been this year and the number of times messages have changed,” said Dr. Brian Davis, HPS superintendent, in a message on the district’s website. “It has been my continued goal to keep you informed with changes as quickly as possible. What remains consistent, is our commitment to learning in the safest and healthiest school environments possible.”

READ: FOX 17's complete coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

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