Saline Area schools look to COVID-19 ‘endgame’ with vaccine eligibility expansion

SALINE, MI — Despite a recent surge in COVID-19 cases across Michigan, Saline Area Schools Superintendent Steve Laatsch said the district and others in Washtenaw County recently discussed “COVID fatigue” and what that could mean for schools in the new year.

Laatsch said county inspectors met with the Washtenaw County health department last week to discuss how health counseling might be impacted by the recent development of children ages 5-11 eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, once those are given. students are fully vaccinated after the winter break.

At Saline Area Schools, district nurses, building secretaries and principals continue to spend significant time tracing contacts and quarantine, Laatsch said, raising the question of whether there will be a time in the coming months when the district can shift more resources back to the classroom.

“The question is, is there a point where COVID-19 becomes like we do with, say, whooping cough, where we send a letter saying there is a case of COVID-19 and others in the class are watching for symptoms but not? are necessary? quarantined?” Laatsch said at the Saline Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Nov.

“We’re not at that point yet, but (those are) some of those discussions that we’re starting to have. Because I think we all want to talk about what the next steps are. Is there an end game with schools in terms of progress, and I think I’ll say the term ‘operationalization’ of COVID-19?”

Laatsch said Saline Area Schools took steps toward that reality this fall by implementing a “test-to-stay” option that would allow some unvaccinated students to stay in the classroom after being identified as a COVID-19. close contact if they continue to wear a mask and test after exposure.

The district currently has 99 students in quarantine as COVID-19 has close contacts, according to the dashboard — the highest number it reported since the week of September 13.

However, many of those students have been able to stay in class, Laatsch said, because of the district’s use of test-to-stay, which allowed the district to provide in-person instruction five days a week throughout the fall.

Under test-to-stay, if an unvaccinated student is identified as having close contact with a positive case, either in class or on a school bus, they can continue to attend school and wear a mask while being tested three times a week in the first seven days of a 14 day exposure period.

Schools in Washtenaw County can participate in “test-to-stay” because the county has implemented a mask mandate for K-12 schools inside buildings.

“I’ve gotten (emails) from parents saying they think the district has done a good job keeping students in school and even some parents saying, ‘My student was in quarantine, but they were able to test to confirm this. stay. day and feel that strategy is working even in this surge in cases that we’re seeing in Washtenaw County and all over Michigan,” Laatsch said.

Beth Ann Hamilton, communications coordinator for the Washtenaw County health department, said discussions about rolling back some of the recommended health and safety guidelines are still in the “beginning stages.”

“Right now we are quite early looking at how these vaccination rates will affect our school guidance,” she said. “We’ve been trying all along to make it clear that our school guidance and recommendations need updating as we analyze data and adjust things based on transmission rates and how things are going at local schools.”

Washtenaw County Health Department mask order remains in effect until community transfer in the county is “moderate” or less for at least 14 consecutive days, or until further notice from the health official.

Hamilton said if younger students are more likely to get vaccinated in the coming months, the health department could change the way it advises schools to do quarantine and contact tracing. However, she stressed that future guidelines will reflect those from the CDC and reduced transmission rates of COVID-19.

“The idea of ​​moving to this endemic status of COVID — that’s not a decision we as a health department would make,” Hamilton said. “We’ve always tried to be flexible and follow the latest guidelines and see what our latest status looks like.”

READ MORE:

Test-to-stay restricts quarantines in some Washtenaw County schools. Why don’t Ann Arbor schools use it?

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available to all students, is AAPS still considering test-to-stay?

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