By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Nine Michigan counties dropped masking requirements for schools and daycares on Friday, indicating a sharp drop in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and the ability of many children to get vaccinated.
The announcements for Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties in metro Detroit and six counties in the northern Lower Peninsula came a day after Ingham County in the Lansing area lifted its mandate. Once orders are complete on February 18 or 28, there will be no more countywide restrictions.
“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,” Dr. Russell Faust, Oakland County Medical Director, said in a statement. “We must, however, remain vigilant as long as we remain in a pandemic.”
Local health officials have strongly recommended mask-wearing in indoor public places, including educational institutions. Schools, colleges and daycares will decide whether or not to still require masks.
Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration lifted a broad statewide mask mandate in June after it had been in effect for more than a year. Many large counties and some small ones issued their own ordinances at the start of this school year to reflect federal and state guidelines.
Lisa Peacock, chief health officer for the Northwestern Michigan Health Department — which covers Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties — and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department , said the state’s weekly infection rate was down 67% from three weeks ago. Nearly 2,400 adults have been hospitalized with the virus, half the number from a month ago.
Parents have had ample opportunity to have their children vaccinated, she said. About 21% of 5- to 11-year-olds, 43% of 12- to 15-year-olds, and 48% of 16- to 19-year-olds are fully vaccinated statewide. Children are at less risk of serious illness or death than older people.
“A public health emergency order is only a temporary strategy, exercised only when other methods of protecting public health have not been possible or effective,” Peacock said.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, who said the health department plans to end its mask requirement by Feb. 28, warned people think the virus is ‘done with us’ last summer before it raged.
“This time I think we can hope the light at the end of the tunnel is real,” he said.
But the Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools, which advocates masking in schools, said the state as a whole still had high transmission rates according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said many children are unvaccinated, those under 5 are not eligible, and there is a shortage of early treatments to help immunocompromised people avoid a severe COVID-19 crisis.
The group called on counties, school districts, charter academies and private schools to explain what they will do about masking if cases rise again. He said masks should still be needed until local case rates drop to moderate or low levels as defined by the CDC.
“We are distressed, but sadly not surprised, by the premature and risky decision to remove county-level protections, and anticipate that this will lead to the removal of mask requirements at the district level, as well as more diseases. and missed schools, which no one wants,” said Emily Mellits of Macomb County.
Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.