LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that a decision to allow -- or rather, not allow -- K-12 schools to resume in-person learning won’t be made until just before the school year begins.
Whitmer’s current plan for returning to school in the fall requires each Michigan school district to establish learning plans for phases three through five of the state’s MI Safe Start Plan.
If a region is in phase three of the plan, its school districts can only offer a virtual learning option for students. Phase four allows districts to resume some in-person learning, but with a number of safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Regions in phase five would be allowed to resume in-person learning with fewer safety measures in place.
Most of Michigan is currently in phase four of the pandemic. A number of school districts have already announced plans that offer a hybrid of online and in-person learning options for their students, following the state guidelines.
However a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Michigan has established doubt over whether resuming in-person learning is safe at all amid the pandemic.
While COVID-19 deaths have largely remained flat in the state, Michigan has been experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases all throughout July after reporting comparatively-lower case counts in June.
States’ coronavirus response measures and residents’ behaviors do not impact COVID-19 data immediately: A new mask mandate won’t immediately reduce COVID-19 case counts, nor will lifted restrictions immediately increase COVID-19 case counts. It takes a few weeks for state data to reflect the behaviors of residents.
Because of this delay, Gov. Whitmer said Tuesday that she won’t be making any decisions about in-person learning until the last minute when the most recent data is available.
Whitmer says the state is “following the numbers” to determine what operations are safe amid the pandemic. She says that if a decision is made to prohibit in-person learning in the fall, it will be made “a lot closer” to the school year than “anyone’s going to be happy with because that’s just the nature of this disease.”
The governor said she recognizes that while it is difficult for schools to not have a concrete plan, it is necessary to remain nimble as the status of the pandemic constantly shifts -- which is why districts have been required to develop plans for multiple different scenarios.
In-person learning would only be prohibited in Michigan regions that return to phase three of the MI Safe Start Plan.
So far, Whitmer has not made any indication that the state is moving back to phase three -- but she has said that she is willing to take steps backward if necessary.
Whitmer said earlier this month that if the current trajectory of COVID-19 cases continues, the state will be moved back to phase three.
“Right now we are trying to hold on to stay in phase four,” Whitmer said earlier this month. “But if that trajectory continues, we have to move some regions back to phase three, that means there will be no in-person instruction (at schools).”
Whitmer urged on Tuesday for Michigan residents to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing and good hygiene to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep the state moving forward out of the pandemic.
Moving backward into phase three would not only affect schools reopening, but would also shut down parts of the economy that have reopened over the last month.
Whitmer moved the entire state to phase four on June 1 after it was stuck in phase three for more than three weeks -- since the MI Safe Start Plan was introduced May 7.
The governor originally planned to move to phase five by the Fourth of July weekend, but that plan changed as the number of new daily cases steadily rose late last month and into July. The upper peninsula and the Traverse City regions are the only ones currently in phase five.