By Jon King /

State health officials on Friday recommended students and staff in Michigan schools continue to wear masks, get vaccinations and social distance to avoid the spread of COVID-19, although local officials will have the final say.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) says that as schools prepare for the return of in-person instruction this fall, the guidance to essentially maintain current recommendations is designed to protect students, teachers and staff, and maintain in-person learning. They say that by layering multiple prevention strategies developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disruptions to in-person learning will be minimized while also helping to protect those who are not fully vaccinated, which currently includes all children under the age of 12.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS said that while COVID vaccination has pushed transmission of the virus in Michigan to its lowest point in a year, once school starts up again in the fall, it will bring together large groups of individuals who may not yet be vaccinated and that the guidance is needed β€œto help protect Michiganders of all ages.”

Among the prevention strategies being recommended for schools are promoting COVID-19 vaccination for eligible staff and students, consistently using well-fitted masks that cover the nose and mouth, social distancing and encouraging students and staff to stay home if they are sick or having COVID-19 symptoms.

However, as the recommendations are not included in the state health department epidemic order, school boards and superintendents retain the authority to decide what measures, if any, they wish to undertake in the fall.

Picture - AP Photo, Ted Warren - File