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State and local health officials step up COVID-19 mask and other recommendations

State and local health departments are stepping up efforts to get Michiganders to wear masks amid rising COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services updated recommendations for schools, including universal indoor masking for all teachers, school staff and students.

“MDHHS is issuing this guidance to help protect Michiganders of all ages,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “We continue to urge all eligible residents to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible as it is our best defense against the virus and the way we are going to end this pandemic.”

The key strategies recommended by the CDC to keep schools safer are as follows:

  1. Promoting vaccination against COVID-19 for eligible staff and students. Vaccination has proven incredibly effective as the leading public health prevention strategy. 
  2. Consistent and correct mask use
    1. CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all educators, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
    2. CDC has recommendations for proper use of masks.
    3. CDC’s order requires all persons – regardless of vaccination status – to wear masks on public transportation, including school buses.
  3. Physical distancing CDC recommends schools maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by students, teachers and staff, regardless of vaccination status. When it is not possible to maintain a three-foot physical distance, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking, screening testing, cohorting, and improved ventilation to help reduce transmission risk.
  4. Screening testing identifies infected people, including those without symptoms who may be contagious, so that measures can be taken to prevent further transmission or outbreaks.
  5. Ventilation
    1. Improving ventilation by opening multiple doors and windows, using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows and making changes to the HVAC or air filtration systems.
    2. Avoiding crowded and/or poorly ventilated indoor activities (e.g., engaging in outdoor activities when possible).
    3. Open or crack windows in buses and other forms of transportation to improve air circulation, if doing so does not pose a safety risk.
  6. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette: Promoting handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes.
  7. Staying home when sick and getting tested
    1. Encouraging students and staff to stay home if sick or having COVID-19 symptoms.
    2. Encouraging students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested for COVID-19 if having symptoms or if they are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19.
  8. Contact tracing in combination with quarantineCollaborating with the local health department.
  9. Cleaning and disinfection: Cleaning once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove potential virus that may be on surfaces. Disinfecting (using disinfectants on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency COVID-19 webpage) removes any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces any risk of spreading infection. CDC has information on routine cleaning to help maintain healthy facilities.

On the local level, Genesee County is stepping up its recommendations for mask use. It’s not a mandate, but a strong recommendation.

“Right now we are fortunate enough to still be at the moderate level,” said Dr. Pamela Hackert, Genesee County medical health officer. “I really wanted to do this proactively before we reach the substantial level and I’m hoping to never reach the high level.”

Genesee County is recommending wearing masks in all indoor environments, including grocery stores and government buildings.   

Data from the Centers for Disease Control show more than 40 Michigan counties had COVID-19 levels at the "substantial" or "high" level as of Wednesday.

Michigan's weekly number of people getting an initial COVID-19 shot has risen for the third straight week after having consistently dropped for two months.

The increase coincided with the spread of the delta variant, the most contagious coronavirus strain discovered yet, and a $5 million state sweepstakes designed to incentivize vaccinations.

There were about 41,000 first-dose immunizations last week, the most since the week of June 13-19.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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