Most Michigan County Health Departments Waive School Mask Requirements

As the omicron wave of COVID-19 appears to be abating, statewide health officials are rescinding countywide school mask mandates.

On Friday, Oakland County, the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department in northern Michigan and the Northwest Michigan Health Department, which covers Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties , announced that they would lift requirements that masks be worn in school settings.

The Oakland County order expires Feb. 28. Northern Michigan orders end earlier, Thursday, February 17.

These counties are only the latest to make such decisions, as case numbers have fallen from steep slopes in the past month. Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 are down about 50% from record numbers in mid-January. Less than 11% of coronavirus tests were positive on Tuesday, February 8. This is the lowest rate since October.

The Washtenaw County Health Department also announced Friday that it will be eliminating its school COVID-19 masks, isolation and quarantine requirements, effective Feb. 28.

These came a day after the Ingham County Health Department rescinded its emergency orders mandating masks in educational institutions and quarantine and isolation procedures for close contact with the school, from February 19.

This leaves only Wayne County with an order that is not expired or does not expire. “At this time, our mask mandate remains in place,” a spokesperson wrote in response to a question about whether the county intended to maintain its requirement.

“As we see our critical metrics of vaccinations, hospital admissions and cases trending in a direction that tells us the impact of COVID-19 on our community is dramatically improving, now is the time to remove ordering masks for child care centers and educational institutions,” Oakland County Health Division Medical Director Dr. Russell Faust said in a statement.

Oakland County and other officials have issued the notice to give school district administrators time to prepare staff, board members and families.

“The Health Division still strongly recommends wearing a mask in indoor public places, including educational facilities,” the Oakland County statement read.

Health departments noted that federal and state authorities, including the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, continue to recommend indoor masking in public places. , especially when transmission levels are high.

While there hasn’t been a statewide requirement since June, Michigan now has an active public health advisory, first issued before Thanksgiving: All residents, regardless of their vaccination status, must wear masks in indoor public places. The state health department has also recommended universal school masking. “We still recommend masks, but are monitoring the data closely and will provide updated guidance as needed,” a spokesperson reported.

“We are at a point in this pandemic where public health strategies will begin to move more towards personal responsibility as we learn to live with COVID-19 over the long term,” said Linda Vail, chief health officer. Ingham County Health, in a statement. “As a public health agency, we will continue to support local school districts by recommending evidence-based public health measures, educating on current guidelines and practices, and making recommendations to stay safe and healthy. in good health.”

Mask mandates have been a point of community contention since late summer. The issue was hotly debated, often vitriolally and sometimes with threats, in crowded school board meetings across the state. Several school districts are facing related lawsuits.

RELATED: Mask mandate prompts Oakland County parents to sue 3 school districts and health department

In September, there were 16 counties with health department mask orders. School districts outside of these counties were allowed to set their own requirements. Leaders in many districts with their own mandates have already removed them. At the beginning of this month, the number of districts to cancel orders dropped by about 20%.

RELATED: Find out which public school districts in Michigan are currently mandating masks

The Northwestern Michigan Health Department cited falling case numbers per capita, hospitalization rates that haven’t risen as quickly as infection rates, and the availability of childhood vaccines.

“Parents have had ample opportunity to immunize their eligible school-aged children,” a health department press release said.

Since November, all children 5 and older are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. However, vaccination rates among children are low. About 39.6% of children ages 5 to 19 have received at least one injection in Michigan. The rate is lowest, about 26%, among 5-11 year olds.

The state seems to have reached a turning point.

The number of new cases, although still high, continues to decline. The seven-day average of new reported cases has fallen to less than 4,000 a day this week. It was the lowest number of cases per day in seven days since early November. That’s down 59% from last week. On January 19, Michigan averaged 17,595 new cases per day.

Per capita rates, however, are still significant enough to put all of the state’s 83 counties in the highest risk category, according to state data this week.

New school outbreaks were also down. Last week, there were 99 new outbreaks of COVID-19 in K-12 schools affecting approximately 700 students and staff. This is down from 126 new outbreaks affecting around 1,000 students and staff the previous week.

“The mask mandate was always intended to be temporary. It was always intended to be used when we have epidemic conditions that require this safety measure to be in place, ”said Lisa Peacock, health officer for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department and the Department of Northwest Michigan Health, at a COVID conference in Northern Michigan. updated this week hosted by Traverse City-based Munson Healthcare.

This story has been updated to include a quote from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on the status of its mask recommendations.

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