End of an era: Michigan’s final county rescinds school mask mandate as omicron swell abates
The last countywide school masking mandate has been rescinded.
As of 8 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 17, Wayne County, the state’s most populous, rescinded its August emergency health order.
“This decision comes after the (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) expired its public health advisory on masking in indoor public places,” a brief statement read.
On Wednesday, Feb. 16, the state health department relaxed its mask-wearing recommendations, no longer requiring students and school staff to wear a universal mask. This came as Michigan’s seven-day average of newly reported cases, percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations for COVID-19 continued to decline from record highs last month.
Last week, Oakland, Ingham and Washtenaw counties and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department in northern Michigan and the Northwestern Michigan Health Department, which covers the counties of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego, have announced that they will lift the requirements. Orders from Oakland and Washtenaw counties will not expire until February 28.
In September, in the absence of a statewide order, there were 16 counties with health department mask orders. School districts outside of these counties were given autonomy to set their own requirements. Many of these individual districts also recently dropped mask requirements, although some remain in place.
In a letter, Wayne County Chief Medical Officer Avani Sheth said masking is still important to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Children should “continue to be encouraged to wear a mask” taking into account their vaccination status, because they or members of their household are at risk, or for other reasons. Masking is still recommended as part of isolation and quarantine periods, she wrote.
RELATED: More Washtenaw County schools are making masks optional
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those infected self-isolate for five days and wear a mask for an additional five days. Vaccinated people who have been exposed must wear a mask for 10 days. Those who are not vaccinated or who have not received a timely booster must stay at home for five days and then mask up for five days.
Masking at school has been the subject of much debate, often contentious. There have been protests and school board meetings filled with angry parents. Now school districts are facing lawsuits.
Dr. Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer of Traverse City-based Munson Healthcare, noted this week that there were still high rates of COVID-19 positivity in Northern Michigan and elsewhere in the state. In some counties, particularly western and northwestern Michigan, the seven-day average positive test rate was 15-20%. The state’s seven-day average on Wednesday was around 9%. Although much lower than it was in January, when it exceeded 30%, it is still nearly double the 5% danger threshold established at the start of the pandemic.
People who know they are at high risk of serious illness should remain cautious, Nefcy said. “For anyone feeling uncomfortable with the easing of restrictions, it’s certainly not a bad thing to continue masking or avoid public and crowded places.”
She encourages frequent handwashing and vaccination of children, who are much less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than older age groups.
“I think we all have to try to find the right balance,” she said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend people wear masks in indoor public spaces if they live in areas with high or substantial community transmission, which means there have been 50 new cases or more per 100,000 people last week. Every county in Michigan is currently eligible, according to CDC and state data.
Rick Sadler, associate professor in the Division of Public Health/Department of Family Medicine at Michigan State University, said he sees health departments adjusting guidelines as transmission levels increase. or decreased. It’s always helpful to wear a mask when few of them are infected, but there is a level of inconvenience people see, he said.
“I think (masking) is a simple, friendly thing to do when we know there are outbreaks,” he said.
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