Whitmer to speed reopening plan that's tied to vaccine rate

Where school districts stand on masks
Where school districts stand on masks

LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to soon accelerate a plan that ties the further loosening of coronavirus restrictions to Michigan's vaccination rate, her office said Wednesday, citing the federal government's recent recommendation that fully vaccinated people can largely stop wearing masks.

An announcement will come in within days, at most a week, spokesman Bobby Leddy said.

“We feel confident that our state can begin taking even greater steps to get back to normal now that a majority of Michiganders have received their vaccine,” he said.

Nearly 57% of residents ages 16 and older have gotten at least one dose.

When 60% receive one shot, capacity at sports stadiums, banquet halls, conference centers, funeral homes and gyms will rise under the plan that was announced three weeks ago. Restaurants and bars will no longer have an 11 p.m. curfew.

All indoor capacity limits will be lifted after 65% get a dose. At 70%, the state will rescind a mask and gatherings order and stop imposing broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise.

Also Wednesday, Michigan's health department said it will urge schools to continue making students, teachers and other staff wear masks for the rest of the academic year even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The pending recommendation could be issued Thursday, spokesman Bob Wheaton said.

Effective Saturday, Whitmer's administration lifted a mask mandate for people who are outdoors — regardless of their vaccination status — and exempted those who are fully vaccinated from an indoor mask requirement. The move came a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines that essentially work on the honor system, leaving it up to people to do the right thing.

Wheaton said the forthcoming state guidance will “keep students and families safe.”

About 31% of residents ages 16 to 19 have gotten at least one shot. Roughly 7% of those ages 12 to 15 have received one dose since that group became eligible nearly a week ago.

Separately, the Democratic governor released a blueprint to schools as they help students recover from lost learning and other problems due to the coronavirus pandemic over the next six to 18 months. The guidance was written by an advisory council of education and other experts.

Each K-12 district or school is recommended to establish a committee to implement a student recovery plan. A budget should be built using billions in federal COVID-19 education funding going to public and private schools.

Recommendations include universal mental health screenings in the first two months of the next school year and student access to a school nurse. Schools are urged to require or request the immunization status of 2020-21 and 2021-22 kindergartners by Dec. 31.

Using a tiered approach to provide more support for students most in need of intervention, schools should consider “double-dose” coursework, tutoring and extended days. Other suggestions include adopting a balanced year-round calendar with shorter breaks or expanding and improving summer school and after-school programs.

The council also urged the Republican-led Legislature to keep providing flexibility so districts receive funding for kids who want to learn remotely. The formula was changed for the current academic year to account for the pandemic, but how lawmakers will handle next school year is uncertain.

“Despite major strides in COVID mitigation strategies, there are still families who will want their children to continue learning remotely for the foreseeable future,” the blueprint says. “Traditional pupil accounting rules do not provide adequate permission for districts to provide a fully remote learning option.”

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