By Jon King /

The state issued updated guidance Wednesday to help Michigan schools and local health departments navigate whether asymptomatic students who have been exposed to a coronavirus-infected student should quarantine at home or stay in school.

However, unlike Livingston County’s new quarantine strategy, the state’s new protocol presumes a layered approach including a mask mandate.

One big change from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is that unvaccinated but masked students who were less than 3 feet from a COVID-positive student for at least 15 minutes can remain in school but only if they are tested daily for seven days after the exposure. Such a student previously would have been told to isolate for 10 days or seven days with a negative test.

The recommendation is among many included for the first time in a school-specific document for the general public at the start of the academic year. They had previously provided county health departments with quarantine guidance for all types of settings including schools.

The state says fully vaccinated students can stay in school if they wear a mask and monitor for symptoms for 14 days, regardless of whether they were masked when they came in close contact with an infected student.

Unvaccinated students who were at least 3 to 6 feet away for 15 or more minutes can remain, too, if they and the COVID-positive student were masked. Exposed students should quarantine if they or the infected student were unmasked — seven days with a negative test or 10 days without one.

“When layered prevention strategies such as masking, distancing, testing, isolation and quarantine are applied consistently, school-associated transmission of COVID-19 is significantly reduced – which keeps kids in the classroom so they can learn,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement. “However, if someone is exposed to COVID at schools, it’s important for them to follow quarantine guidance to prevent spread to other children.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has declined to reinstate an indoor mask mandate for schools, instead leaving the decision to local health agencies and K-12 districts. At least 60% of students in traditional public schools are required to be masked, according to the governor’s office. However, no Livingston County school district are requiring masks, largely based on the fact that the Livingston County Health Department (LCHD) has, like the state, declined to issue a mandate, but instead is only recommending districts do so.

The LCHD’s new quarantine strategy allows exposed students to continue with in-person learning as long as they perform a daily COVID-19 rapid test, wear a properly fitting mask in school and do a daily screening for symptoms. The tests would be provided for free by the health department, and be conducted at home.

LCHD Director Dianne McCormick told WHMI that the protocol used at the end of the last school year for determining who needs to quarantine is still being utilized and incorporates many of the same conditions as what MDHHS published on Wednesday. She added that they are still working out the logistics with the schools of the home-testing in terms of tracking, verification and notification process and determining who does what. “We will also recognize what MDHHS has recently published which allows students who are wearing masks and staying physically distanced more opportunities to remain in-person and would then be less subject to quarantine requirements.”

Whitmer and health officials continued to urge people ages 12 and older to get vaccinated. About 59% of them are fully vaccinated in Michigan compared to 62% nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.