By Bria Brown

(CBS DETROIT) – Governor Gretchen Whitmer held a press conference on Jan. 8 on the state’s response to COVID-19.

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Whitmer announced Friday her administration’s goal is for all Michigan school districts to offer in-person learning option no later than March 1 and earlier if possible.

The new guidance emphasizes the methods of reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread which includes wearing masks, ventilation improvements, frequent hand washing and social distancing. It is for grades pre-kindergarten through 12 and includes early childhood education, such as Head Start and Great Start Readiness Program.

Vaccination of teachers and other school staff will begin by Jan. 11 due to educators’ roles as essential frontline workers.

“The value of in-person learning for our kids is immeasurable, and we must do everything we can to help them get a great education safely,” said Whitmer.

The governor said over the last 10 months medical experts and epidemiologists “have closely followed the data and have learned that schools can establish a low risk of transmission by ensuring that everyone wears a mask and adopting careful infection prevention protocols.”

Here are other infection control measures under the new MDHHS guidance:

  • When feasible, assigning children to cohort groups and limiting their interactions to their cohorts to reduce the number of contacts.
  • Keeping children 6 feet apart from one another to the extent feasible, making creative use of school spaces to facilitate distancing.
  • Providing adequate hand sanitizing supplies and reinforcing proper handwashing techniques.
  • Improving air ventilation.
  • Having staff and students conduct self-screenings for symptoms at home every day before going to school.
  • Ensuring school plans are in place in coordination with their local health department if there are any positive COVID-19 tests.
  • Having staff and students who either test positive or are close contacts of those who test positive follow the guidance issued by MDHHS as well as local health departments. Anyone who is considered a close contact of someone who tests positive but does not have symptoms should quarantine for 10 days under CDC guidance.

Additional recommendations can be found in the State of Michigan Guidelines for Operating Schools Safely on Michigan’s Schools COVID Testing website.

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Here are updates from Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health.

  • Cases are at 222 cases per million people and have increased in the past week.
  • Percent positivity is now 9.3 percent and has continued to increase over the past week and was 8.2 percent on Dec. 27, 2020.
  • 12.8 percent of available in-patient beds at hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients. Khaldun says this number continues to decrease.

Overall, Khaldun says metrics show the state is at a pivotal moment.

“The declines we were seeing over the holidays, seem to be reversing. I’m concerned there were gatherings over the winter holidays and we’re starting to see results of that,” she said.

She’s also concerned about a new variant of the coronavirus in Michigan that originated in the United Kingdom that has caused a “dangerously fast increase in cases there.” Khaldun says the new variant is transmitted more easily, risking a significant increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Michiganders who traveled over the holidays should quarantine for at least 10 days after their return, so if you do have the virus you don’t spread it to others.

If you’ve traveled over the holidays and have symptoms or have been exposed, Khaldun says you should get a coronavirus test and mask up.

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