Michigan County Official Resigns Cites ‘Politicization of Public Health’

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The interim health worker for Berrien County in southwest Michigan is resigning his post amid continuing unrest over how local governments should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Courtney Davis, the acting Berrien County health worker, and Gillian Conrad, the county health department’s communications manager, will both be stepping down over the next three weeks, according to a press release on Monday. .

“I make this decision with a lot of emotion,” Davis said in a statement. “Serving the residents of Berrien County for nearly five years and supporting local public health infrastructure has been among my highest honors.

“However, with the politicization of public health during the pandemic, I can no longer do my job effectively and serve the community with their health and safety always at the forefront.”

Since August, debates have raged across Michigan, centered on whether local principals and county health workers should impose mask warrants on students. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration declined to issue a statewide demand, leaving decisions to local officials.

Michigan’s COVID-19 infection rates are on the rise and currently, people under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated against the virus. Rural counties with low vaccination rates and no mask warrants for students are behind current increases in infections, according to a Detroit News analysis last week.

On September 1, the Berrien County Health Department announced a public health order requiring students to wear masks. At the time, Davis said it was “imperative that we take this step to keep students and teachers healthy and safe in the classroom.”

Twenty-eight days later, the health ministry rescinded the order, citing wording from the state budget, backed by GOP lawmakers, which tried to block funding for counties with emergency health orders. not approved by local commissioners.

Whitmer, a Democrat, said the provisions were unconstitutional and unenforceable, but some local government officials were not convinced by her statements. Four local health agencies, covering six counties, canceled mask warrants.

In addition to the COVID-19 debate, Berrien County is home to Benton Harbor, a city of 9,615 people facing a lead-tainted water crisis. Benton Harbor has experienced three consecutive years of lead levels being exceeded despite attempts by the state to take corrosion control measures.

Last week Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist vowed the state would find the millions of dollars it needed remove lead service lines in the city in 18 months.

Berrien County has begun the process of replacing Davis and Conrad, according to Monday’s press release.

“We appreciate and value the contributions of Courtney Davis and Gillian Conrad, especially during this very difficult time, as well as their commitment to our community,” said R. McKinley Elliott, chair of the Berrien County Commissioners Council. “We wish them all the best in their future endeavors.”

Conrad said she had to quit her job for the sake of her health and that of her family.

“What our team has accomplished during the COVID-19 pandemic has been nothing short of extraordinary; however, the exhaustive work of the past 19 months has had a tremendous impact on my mental, emotional and physical health,” said said Conrad.

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