Several counties, including six of the 10 most populated ones,
now mandate face coverings for students, teachers and staff
indoors regardless of vaccination status. Their health officers
pointed to a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases due to the more
contagious delta variant and, noting that kids under 12 cannot
be vaccinated, said masks have reduced spread in classrooms.
Five counties' directives apply to kindergarten through sixth
grade, though a number of affected districts also require face
coverings in grades 7 to 12. Measures in Wayne and
Oakland, the state's largest counties, cover all grades.
Policies vary at schools in 76 counties where health departments
have recommended, but not required, masking.
Whitmer has faced criticism for leaving the decision to local
leaders being confronted with angry parents pushing to undo the
mandates amid an increasingly volatile situation nationwide.
Her office said about 54% of students in traditional public
schools are subject to face covering requirements, a number the
governor expects to climb as the first day nears in places that
have not yet started classes.
``It's not comfortable to make these hard decisions. If anyone
knows that, it's me,`` the Democrat said this past week. ``But
the fact of the matter is a mask requirement is an important
Michigan's indoor mask mandate, first implemented by Whitmer
early in the coronavirus pandemic, was kept in place by the
state health department after the Michigan Supreme Court struck
down a law that gave the governor broad emergency powers. Her
administration lifted the requirement in June amid vaccination
gains and low infection rates but strongly recommends face
coverings inside schools, where outbreaks can interrupt
Classes are starting amid a two-month rise in test positivity
and case rates. Hospitalizations have been increasing for five
weeks in a state where—for now—the 14-day infection rate remains
lower than in all but four states.
The state Department of Health and Human Services, in
collaboration with the University of Michigan School of Public
Health, has used outside research to estimate how long it would
take for there to be a greater than 50% chance of transmission
if one infectious child attends a class of 25 elementary
With complete masking, it is 120 hours. It drops to 24 hours
with imperfect masking and to three hours with no masking. The
time until transmission is less for high school students.
Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo,
the state's top epidemiologist, said masking reduces the chance
of being infected in school by 40% to 75%.
The public at large backs masking in schools.
About 58% of Americans favor requiring it for students,
including 52% of parents, according to a poll from The
Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Roughly 25% of adults and 28% of parents are opposed, while 17 %
to 18% are neither for nor against.
But opinions differ by community, and anti-mask demonstrators
have voiced objections to county commissions, health departments
and school boards.
In Kent County on Thursday, commissioners heard hours of
comments against the administrative health officer's rule
requiring face coverings in preK-6 educational settings. Parents
said it should be a choice, expressing concerns about masks'
effects on physical and mental health. Some vowed to homeschool
their kids. Others cited religious objections.
Some decried the ``plandemic,'' a term used to suggest the virus
was manufactured and its severity exaggerated. Others urged the
firing of Dr. Adam London and recalls of elected
officials who allow his order to stand.
``I as a parent know what's best for my child and that's for her
to be at school with no mask,'' said Nick Prill, of Kentwood,
who said his daughter suffered headaches from wearing one.
``We are facing a full-on assault against our children,'' said
Aimee Sutherland of Caledonia, who has a 9-year-old son.
It is unclear how long the local regulations will last.
Some will extend 60 days beyond when vaccines are authorized for
children under 12 or until a county's infection rate is ``low''
or ``moderate'' for a certain number of days or until further
notice from the health officer.
In Wayne County, where school begins Sept. 7, education leaders
welcomed masking requirements that were announced Friday.
``Our goal is for in-person learning to be a viable option, with
minimal interruptions due to outbreaks or the need for
quarantines, throughout the entire 2021-22 school year,'' said
Daveda Colbert, superintendent of the Wayne Regional
Educational Service Agency. ``With the latest guidance, it is my
hope that together as administrators, teachers, students,
parents and community members, we can now shift our focus to
engaging each and every learner at the highest level.''