Gov. Whitmer optimistic about in-person school in fall


LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that K-12 schools can reopen for in-person instruction as long as Michigan’s successful containment of the coronavirus doesn’t lapse, subject to safety rules she will announce June 30.

Schools closed in March and ended the academic year with online or other remote learning. The governor said schools may resume physical instruction during phase 4 of her restart plan. All of the state is in that stage or, in northern Michigan, where COVID-19 cases and deaths are low, a step further along.

>>Slides from briefing

School typically starts in late August or early September. A previously issued order by Whitmer gives districts more flexibility to adopt a year-round calendar for the 2020-21 school year or start before Labor Day as a way to help students catch up.

“Our intent is to resume in-person instruction, to do so in a way that is safe but also to make sure that as we get back to schools, as we return to work, that we have very clear guidance to what the minimum expectations are,” Whitmer said during a news conference.

In less than two weeks, the governor will issue an order providing details on what will be required to reopen schools and what will be recommended. She said schools will be free to implement more aggressive standards than what the state mandates.

Public schools face a July 1 deadline to adopt their budgets despite great uncertainty over state funding, which is down substantially due to lower tax revenues. Districts are planning for cuts despite the expectation that they will need more aid to have smaller, socially distanced classes and to provide masks during the pandemic.

Also Wednesday, Whitmer — whom Republicans have accused of going too far with some stay-at-home restrictions or not restarting the economy more quickly — pointed to data showing Michigan’s success in curbing the virus as it surges in many other states. Michigan was an early hot spot and has reported the seventh-highest per-capita death rate among states, but the situation has improved markedly since.

“We are seeing spikes across the country, in Texas and Arizona and more — the Carolinas,” she said. “But because the vast majority of Michiganders are doing the right thing by staying home and staying safe and staying informed, we’re not yet seeing another spike here and that is good for everyone and for our economy.”

Since Michigan’s outbreak began in March, more than 60,000 people have contracted coronavirus and nearly 5,800 deaths have been linked to it. About a third of the deaths have been within skilled nursing facilities, according to data the state started releasing this week. Updated figures will be released this afternoon.

Still, the outbreak is on the decline, with fewer deaths and confirmed cases daily. At the same time, the state is working to test more people, with a goal of 30,000 tests each day. Nearly everyone can get a test now, and information on where to find a testing site can be found on the state’s website.

The governor’s last briefing on coronavirus was June 5, when she announced that barber shops would be next to reopen — that happened statewide Monday.

Whitmer has also reopened bars, restaurant dining rooms and nail salons. Cans and bottles may now be returned. Gyms, movie theaters and public venues in the northern part of the state can go back to business, but with capacity limits in place. The governor’s office has said she hopes to make similar allowances for the rest of the state before the Fourth of July.

>>Online: MI Safe Start Map showing risk by region

Despite positive trends in the virus’ curve and signals in the reopening economy, Whitmer and Khaldun have urged vigilance. People are reminded to follow health safety practices like 6-foot social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.