Michigan is on the wrong trajectory to reopen schools, Gov. Whitmer warns

Students may not be able to return to school this fall if coronavirus counts continue to rise in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday.

Whitmer’s back-to-school plan makes clear that classrooms won’t reopen unless the virus appears to be coming under control. That seemed plausible when she released the plan last week and said that she was “optimistic” about schools reopening.

But on Thursday, as new cases reached their highest point since May, Whitmer sounded a more cautious note.

“If we want to be in a position in eight weeks from now where we can get our kids back in in-person education, this trend can’t continue, and that’s why masking up is going to be so important,” she said during a news conference.

Her comments underscored the uncertainty facing Michigan educators as the summer wears on. As schools prepare for the challenge of helping students catch up after months away from the classroom, it is still unclear whether instruction will take place in person, online, or a mix of the two.

The Trump administration is intent on clearing up that uncertainty. On Wednesday, President Trump threatened to cut federal funding to schools that don’t reopen for in-person instruction this fall.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and some prominent epidemiologists have also called for schools to reopen, pointing to the harm done by keeping children at home and to limited evidence that children are less likely than adults to become infected with the coronavirus. The AAP noted, however, that officials should make reopening decisions based on local context and the spread of the virus.

Amid a rising COVID-19 case count and a deepening partisan divide over mask wearing and other measures that helped slow the spread of the coronavirus in Michigan this spring, Whitmer said the decision to reopen schools will be based on public health data.

“To increase the odds that we’re back in school, the best, most important thing we can do is mask up, wash our hands,” she said.

Whitmer declined to say when she would make a decision about schooling for the fall and did not specify how many new cases would be enough to keep students out of classrooms.

Under her plan, schools will reopen for in-person instruction if their region of the state is at or above Level 4 on the state’s coronavirus scale. Level 6 marks the end of the pandemic, while lower levels indicate that new cases and deaths are rising. Much of the state is currently at Level 4, meaning schools would reopen in the fall if nothing changed. The Traverse City area and the Upper Peninsula, which have fewer cases, are at Level 5.

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