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The Washtenaw County Health Department announced Friday morning COVID-19 health orders — related to indoor masking as well as isolation and quarantine guidelines — for K-12 schools will be lifted effective Feb. 28. 

Masking will remain strongly recommended in schools after the orders are lifted and will be required on public transportation, including school buses, under federal orders. Students who test positive or are in close contact with someone who tests positive after Feb. 28 must not attend school under the Michigan Public Health Code and existing administrative rules. 

Jimena Loveluck, WCHD health officer, said in a press release the masking and quarantine and isolation health orders were implemented at the height of the pandemic to help maintain in-person learning, but said current conditions warrant more flexibility in the COVID-19 policies.

“Local health orders have been necessary during the pandemic, and these orders have helped protect in-person learning, critical health care capacity, and overall health,” Loveluck said. “We are in a different place now. We can offer more flexibility while we continue to provide appropriate guidance and work with our local schools to protect health, prevent spread, and maintain in-person learning as safely as possible.”

Washtenaw County is one of nine counties in the state of Michigan to lessen COVID-19 mandates for public schools, according to The Detroit Free Press. Oakland County announced Friday they would lift their mask mandate for public schools on Feb. 18 and Ingham County announced Thursday their emergency health order will cease on Feb. 19.

The orders were put in place in September 2021, prior to the omicron variant. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 data tracker, Washtenaw County is considered an area of “high” community transmission. The press release states the orders were to remain in place during periods of “substantial” or “high” transmission, but will now be removed due to the high vaccination rates among school-age children.

Ruth Kraut, WCHD deputy health officer, wrote in the release that the county will provide an updated school guidance. Masks are still required for students or staff who had close contact or who are returning from COVID-19 isolation, Kraut said, and will continue to be required on public transportation.

“Importantly, our local orders remain in full force until the end of the month,” Kraut said in the release. “Before the planned changes take place, we will provide updated school guidance. Masks will be required when students or staff have had close contact with someone who has COVID or are returning from COVID isolation. Under federal orders, masks continue to be required on public transportation and school buses.”

The Ann Arbor Public Schools district announced in a Friday email to families that they will continue to maintain all existing health and safety protocols — including mandatory masks indoors and on school buses — until further notice.

“We will continue to hold the health and safety of our students and staff as our top priority,” the email reads. “We are charged with the responsibility of supporting our students with healthy in-school learning environments each day and will take very seriously any proposed removal of a critical layer of COVID mitigation and protection for our students, staff and families.”

AAPS wrote to its district that their universal masking requirement was announced last July and was “not connected to or contingent upon the WCHD Emergency Order issued last fall.”

In early January, positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths peaked in Washtenaw County, and have since declined. Local hospitals have reported improved capacity, but transmission is still considered to be high due to the omicron variant being more easily transmissible. 

Positive COVID-19 cases at the University of Michigan also peaked during the week of Jan. 8, reaching a record high of cases with the omicron variant. Since then, positive cases have declined.

Update: This story has been updated with a statement from the Ann Arbor Public School district.

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