By Jon King /

NOTE: This story has been updated with information from the Livingston County Health Department about their criteria for determining who should quarantine after a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.

Another student has tested positive for COVID-19 in Howell, although officials say it is not connected to the one day closure Monday of the high school.

According to a communication sent out Wednesday, the Howell Public Schools district was informed Wednesday afternoon that student on Bus #36 tested positive for the virus. However, district officials say it is not believed that this latest case is related to the one positive and two probable cases reported over the weekend that forced a one-day closure of the high school and freshman campus on Monday and had students learning online instead. Classes resumed as normal Tuesday, and according to the communication because the newest case was not connected to the previous ones, in-person instruction was allowed to proceed today.

HPS Spokesman Tom Gould told WHMI that pursuant to the guidance they follow from the Livingston County Health Department, only students identified as close contacts of the infected student need to quarantine and that all of those students have been informed. Close contact is defined on the local health department's website strictly as being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes.

It’s not known how many students were asked to quarantine off of Bus #36 based on that definition. When questioned, Gould referred WHMI to the Livingston County Health Department. Dr. Juan Marquez, who serves as the Medical Director for both the Livingston & Washtenaw County Health Departments, later responded and said that they typically do not release details on the number of people asked to quarantine.

Dr. Marquez also responded to an inquiry from WHMI about the varying definitions of what close contact means. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says within six feet for at least 15 minutes, but then adds several other conditions, including that the timeline for determining who should be quarantined starts two days before the onset of illness or, for asymptomatic clients, two days prior to a positive specimen collection, until the time the patient is isolated. Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services defines close contact as being “(less than six feet apart) for as little as 10 minutes.”

Dr. Marquez said that in their toolkit for schools, they provide more context. "We typically tailor our information for the scenario so the definition of close patient care (which would align with the WHO definition) would typically only be included in our messaging for healthcare facilities." The toolkit he refers to states, "A person with confirmed COVID-19 is considered to be contagious 48 hours prior to symptom onset or, if asymptomatic, 48 hours prior to a positive test result. All individuals who were in contact with the case in that timeframe should be identified by the school. Using this list of individuals, LCHD determines who meets the threshold of “close contacts”. These individuals are deemed to be at higher risk of developing an infection and thus are required to quarantine for at least 14 days. However, this is simply a guideline and at times, an individual in excess of 6 feet may be considered a close contact based on certain factors like duration, frequency, type of activity, etc. These situations are evaluated on case-by-case basis."

Dr. Marquez then added that, "In regards to MDHHS, the Michigan Health Alert Network from 8/8/20 provided more clarification about the time frame (“Adjusted timeframe for close contact from 10-30 minutes to 15 minutes”) so it may be that MDHHS has not yet updated the information on their site related to the timing."