Lack of school mask policy makes Macomb an outlier among most of Michigan's biggest counties

September 02, 2021, 4:03 PM

Ten of Michigan's 12 most populous counties require masks in schools this fall, with Macomb and Saginaw as the exceptions.

County health departments in Wayne, Oakland and a half-dozen others acted after federal guidelines in early August recommended that students wear masks both indoors and outdoors regardless of Covid vaccination status in order to slow the spread of the disease. State government leaves the decision up to district and counties.

Indiana pupils show the safeguard adopted in many districts this fall. (Photo: Carson TerBush/Chalkbeat)

The latest mask orders came Wednesday from Berien County and Thursday from Ingham County, which includes Lansing. Linda Vail, Ingham's top health officer, announced the policy -- starting next Tuesday -- amid a rise in Covid cases among local children and adolescents. Her order covers childcare centers, preschools, youth programs and private schools in addition to public districts.

"It is imperative that we use all of our tools and prevention strategies to control Covid-19 in educational settings to maintain in-person learning in the 2021-2022 school year and to do so safely," says a statement, which adds:

Ingham County had a 515% increase in new cases among [under] 17-year-olds when comparing the two-week period of July 1-14 and the two-week period of Aug 12-25.

Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported a five-fold increase in the number of Covid-19 cases among children in the last month, rising from approximately 38,000 cases at the end of July to 204,000 cases as of August 26, 2021.

With vaccination rates of 61% among eligible individuals aged 12 and older in Ingham County, and many school-aged children too young to receive the vaccine, Ingham County school districts will now be mandated to follow prevention measures that are demonstrated to reduce the spread of Covid-19. ...

Covid-19 remains a public health issue that impacts local institutions, particularly in educational settings where students younger than 12 are ineligible to receive vaccination at this time.

The six other counties requiring school face coverings are Allegan, Ottawa, Kent, Kalamazoo, Genesee and Washtenaw.

In Macomb, one of the holdouts, County Executive Mark Hackel said in a statement two weeks ago: "Throughout the pandemic, we have made it a priority to help protect those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19." But he's talking about booster vaccines, not school masks.

Just under 56 percent of Macomb residents over 12 are fully vaccinated, state health department data shows.

Update: "We just had our open house at the elementary level in Macomb. I would say there was about 25 percent masking in school," a parent or teacher comments on a Reddit thread about this article. "School starts on Tuesday and don’t expect it to be much different, unfortunately."

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