School Report Card: States issue guidance for school proms, University of Michigan locks out students who fail to get tested for COVID-19

Korin Miller
·10 min read
States are adopting a wide spectrum of policies regarding prom this year. (AP/Nam Y. Huh)
States are adopting a wide spectrum of policies regarding prom this year. (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

States have a range of different policies on school prom

It's prom season or close to it in many parts of the country, and states are adopting a wide spectrum of policies regarding the high school rite of passage. 

Connecticut plans to allow proms but with restrictions, according to guidance released by the state's Department of Public Health. Event attendees should wear masks, regardless of whether they're vaccinated. The state is also asking organizers to hold prom in large, open-air outdoor spaces and plan rain dates instead of moving the event indoors, the Hartford Courant says. Officials are also asking schools to consider combining prom with other celebrations like graduation nights to eliminate multiple exposures over several events. 

The Connecticut Department of Public Health also urged schools to consider delaying proms until later in the school year, both to limit students potentially needing to miss class due to possible exposure to COVID-19 and to allow older students to get vaccinated first. Prom should also be limited to just students who attend the school, and a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event is recommended. 

In Minnesota, the state's Department of Health and Department of Education is referring schools to venue-specific guidance that recommends that organizers limit attendance, don't allow food or drinks after 11 p.m., have designated eating areas and encourage students to dance and mingle in groups of six.

In Massachusetts, the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released guidance that says officials "strongly recommend" schools skip the event this year. "If schools do choose to hold proms, it is strongly recommended that they delay the prom until after the end of the school year, ideally delaying until such time when most students attending prom will have been vaccinated," the guidance reads. 

New York is allowing prom, but health officials recommend limiting attendance, having live bands separated from attendees, staggering food service and assigning parties at different times on the dance floor. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not specifically released guidelines around prom but does recommend that people avoid large gatherings with others who are not in their household at this time. For those who choose to go to gatherings anyway, the CDC advises wearing masks, staying at least 6 feet away from people who don't live with you, opting for outdoor activities and washing your hands often.

Doctors say prom can be held in a way that lowers the risk of spreading COVID-19 if certain precautions are taken. "It's a common-sense issue," Dr. John Schreiber, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "Outside is better than inside, limiting crowd size is a positive. ... If you do it outdoors under a tent and separate people as best as you can, it's potentially possible to do prom."

But Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that prom "is a little bit tricky" to pull off and a lot depends on what's happening with the spread of COVID-19 in the community. If there are high numbers of COVID-19 in the community, the risk of prom turning into a superspreader event is high, he says. "Prom often leads to interactions of young people that involve kissing and close contact, and that can involve risk," he says. "But certain parts of the country are in better shape than others, and some older teens might have been vaccinated."

Overall, prom can be done "reasonably safely," Dr. Lawrence C. Kleinman, chief of the Division of Population Health, Quality and Implementation Science at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. But, he adds, "schools just need to get creative."

Schools cancel employee and student vaccination events over the pause of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

Atlanta's public school system canceled a district-wide vaccination event scheduled for April 21 where they planned to offer staff the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC announced a "pause" in the use of the vaccine in the U.S. while they investigate reports of a rare form of blood clots that happened in six women who received the vaccine.

The event was scheduled to take place at a local Walgreens. This isn't the first vaccination event Atlanta Public Schools has held — the district also offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to staff in March. Those employees received their second doses at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this week. 

Atlanta Public Schools is located in Fulton County, Ga. According to CDC data, 92,829 residents are fully vaccinated against COVD-19 as of Thursday, which is 8.2 percent of the total population.

Similar cancellations happened across the country. The University of Tennessee Knoxville announced Tuesday that it had canceled a vaccination event scheduled for Tuesday, but said that Moderna vaccines would be given out instead on Friday. The University of Rochester also canceled an event scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, encouraging people to sign up to get vaccinated with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines instead.

Dr. Daniel Ganjian, pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that people who planned to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shouldn't get discouraged. "It's a bump in the road — not a complete halt," he says. Russo also calls this a "blip" for school systems looking to vaccinate students and staff. "It's a transient issue," he says. "But we have enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to vaccinate the entire country."

The University of Michigan has locked out more than 1,000 students who violated COVID-19 testing rules

More than 1,000 students at the University of Michigan who did not comply with the school's COVID-19 testing protocol have been locked out of nonresidential buildings. The students, who have not completed a mandatory weekly COVID-19 test for four or more weeks in a row, had their official university ID "Mcard" access deactivated. 

The university requires that all students who are on campus to complete weekly testing through the school's mandatory Community Sampling and Tracking Program. Students were informed by email on Monday that they were locked out.

Michigan is currently experiencing a COVID-19 surge at levels just below what the state saw around the holidays. On Thursday, the state reported 6,303 new cases of COVID-19, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, down from 7,955 new cases on Wednesday. Michigan has the highest rate of new infections in the country over the past seven days, at 551.6 per 100,000 people. The next closest state is Rhode Island, which has 304.5 cases per 100,000.

"This expectation of students accessing in-person classes or campus facilities was broadly communicated to the community," Dr. Robert Ernst, associate vice president of student life for health and wellness at the University of Michigan, tells Yahoo Life. Ernst says that saliva-based tests are "easily accessible" at several sites across campus. 

"Students living in university housing have had a consistently very high level of compliance with the weekly testing requirement, and no students have been subject to lockout of campus housing facilities," he says. Ernst also says that students who attend in-person classes were "clearly" told that being locked out would be a consequence of not complying with school testing standards. 

Students can have their cards reactivated, though. They just need to go through testing and then provide a screenshot of their ResponsiBLUE test tracker app to document the testing collection.

"Overall, the surveillance testing program has been very well received by our campus community," Ernst says. "It has provided useful information about COVID activity, it has reassured many and participation has been very consistent throughout the semester."

The university had 69 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 on campus for the week beginning April 11.

While some have criticized the university's action, doctors say it can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus. "If you have rules and you want them to be followed, you have to have consequences," Kleinman says. He points out that students missed testing four weeks in a row before their card access was revoked, adding, "it's not like you're a day late and you get locked out."

Russo cites Michigan's high COVID-19 rates as justification for extreme actions. "Michigan is really the COVID hot spot of this country right now," he says. "Desperate times call for more desperate actions."

Iowa City schools relaxed COVID-19 rules after nearly 1,000 students were placed in quarantine

The Iowa City Community School District school board voted Tuesday to ease its quarantine protocol to be in line with that of the Iowa Department of Public Health after nearly 1,000 students were placed in quarantine.

Under the previous guidance, students and staff were considered to be in "close contact" and were required to quarantine when they were within 6 feet of a COVID-19-positive individual for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period or spent two hours in an indoor space with them, regardless of distance. Close contacts needed to quarantine for 14 days.

The new regulations allow students and staff to leave quarantine if they have a negative COVID-19 test after seven days or are not showing symptoms after 10 days in quarantine.

"Throughout this past year, we have tried to balance the need to keep students—and staff—healthy and safe with the need to educate them and provide the supports that they need to be successful," school board president Shawn Eyestone, tells Yahoo Life. "With a rapidly increasing number of students in quarantine, it was becoming unsustainable to keep these two pieces in balance." 

Iowa City is located in Johnson County, which has a 6 percent COVID-19 percent positive average over the past 14 days. Overall, cases are low — the county reported 22 new cases on Thursday — and 33 percent of the local population is vaccinated, according to the New York Times' coronavirus tracker.

Eyestone says that "academic outcomes were slipping" and that many students and families were concerned about mental health and school engagement. "In the end, I felt that the increase in risk with less students in quarantine was outweighed by the positives our students would receive by being in school," he says. Eyestone says that the school district "will continue to monitor the positive test rates among our students to see if that increased risk was higher than we expected and can change course if need be."  

Eyestone also says that feedback from staff and families has been "mixed."

Schreiber says that relaxing quarantine rules safely "depends on the data" within the community. "If you're in a state where there's slow community spread and a high vaccination rate, it's a good time to review your rules and whether you can loosen them up," he says. "There's definitely an opportunity to reevaluate what we do as numbers get better."

Kleinman also says it's "reasonable" to do "periodic assessments" of school COVID-19 policies. "It's important to look at how many cases were prevented because of quarantining and how many people were quarantined," he says. "But doing it simply because a lot of people were under quarantine is not terribly helpful."

Ultimately, "each school district has to be in touch with their department of health about these things," Ganjian says. But, he adds, "safety protocols are important."

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