4 W MI health depts. won’t order close contact quarantining in schools

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Public health officials in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Ionia counties say they will not require local school districts to abide by the state’s COVID-19 quarantine guidelines for students, though they do still recommend it.

“Kent County Health Department is asking our school districts, superintendents to adhere to or comply with MDHHS guidance and recommendations for quarantine for K-12 students,” said Teresa Branson, the chief inclusion officer for the Kent County Health Dept. 

The health departments for the four counties issued a joint press release on the matter Friday after they were informed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that student quarantine rules would be mandated by local order rather than the state.

The current state of vaccine availability was a factor in the update from the counties, according to Branson. 

“We’re looking at the whole picture, what’s currently going in our community now as opposed where things were a month ago and even before that,” Branson said. “We have more vaccines available in our community, positivity rate going down, more individuals getting vaccinated, all these things working in our favor.”

Kathy Moore, the health officer at the Muskegon County Health Dept., says despite the change to the guidelines, health departments will still work to ensure the health and safety of students. 

“We have public health staff working in the schools,” said Moore. “We expect we will continue to investigate, identify close contacts and still issue quarantine orders. It may be a little more narrow, more targeted.”

Under the new rules, quarantining would no longer be a requirement for students who can be contact-traced to a COVID-19 case originating from another student at the same school, as long as the student is asymptomatic. 

The local agencies cited declining case rates and higher vaccination rates in explaining why they would not require kids to quarantine under the terms of the MDHHS guidelines. The health departments said they would keep an eye on virus and vaccination metrics and respond to each school on a case-by-case basis when kids test positive.

“The Local Health Departments continue to recommend that the local school districts use the MDHHS’ quarantine guidelines as best practices for the protection of area children, teachers and staff and the prevention of outbreaks in the school setting,” the agencies noted.

Grandville Public Schools and Jenison Public Schools have already informed parents that asymptomatic close contacts of positive cases will no longer have to quarantine, though family members still must for 20 days. Contact tracing will continue, however, to see who may have been exposed. It also stressed that kids who are sick must stay home.

Grandville released a statement saying that of the more than 300 positive cases identified during the 2020-2021 school year, only four are the result of in-school exposure. 

“We are not seeing a significant percentage of kids that also get it from that close contact,” said Roger Bearup, the Grandville Public Schools Superintendent. “If there are situations where more than one, two, three in a group, we’d look at those situations and ensure quarantines take place.”

School employees must still quarantine by state order when MDHHS guidelines indicate. Employees and students alike must also continue wearing masks under state order.

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