Parents push for mask mandate inside Michigan schools

AP Poll Virus Outbreak Schools
Posted at 6:08 AM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 06:08:45-04

LANSING, Mich. — A coalition of parent groups on Wednesday urged Michigan's health department to require indoor masking at all schools to curb the coronavirus and vowed to combat politicians who oppose such mandates.

The Michigan Parents Alliance for Safe Schools includes pro-mask groups from a dozen counties — seven with school mask mandates and five without.

Related: Bill that would ban mask, COVID-19 vaccine mandates at Michigan schools heads to full Senate

“Right now you've got about 60% of Michigan's kids covered. What about the other 40%? We're going to keep fighting for them,” said Emily Mellits, a parent of two school-age kids in Macomb County. It is Michigan's third-most populated county and — unlike most large counties and many small ones — does not require face coverings, leaving it to schools to decide.

The coalition, which launched a petition seeking a statewide mandate from state health director Elizabeth Hertel, acted a day after a Republican-controlled Senate committee approved bills that would prevent state and local health officials from mandating masks to attend school. Some GOP legislators have threatened funding repercussions for county health departments that issue mask orders.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration lifted a broad indoor mask mandate in June, citing vaccinations and what were low infection rates. She has said it is better for masking decisions to be made locally because it increases the odds that people will comply.

But Mellits said school board members are not public health experts and “it shouldn't fall on them.” Some, she said, do not trust guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which both recommend universal masking in schools as cases have increased.

Dr. Rosemary Olivero, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in west Michigan who has three children in school, said masking in indoor settings where COVID-19 transmission is high or substantial “is simply not negotiable. The lack of a universal mask mandate in the state of Michigan has not only left our children vulnerable to COVID-19 but also our unvaccinated and fragile community members. This will undoubtedly set us back in our ability to control the pandemic and safely live with this virus.”

Asked about the petition, state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin applauded local health agencies and schools districts that require face coverings and encouraged all districts to follow their lead. But there was no indication that the Whitmer administration will change course.

Michigan recorded about 6,600 new virus cases over two days and 62 additional deaths, including 41 older deaths from a records review. The seven-day case average as of Monday, 2,476, was up from 2,198 two weeks prior, according to Johns Hopkins University. The daily death average was steady, 21, compared to 20 on Aug. 30.

The number of hospitalized adults with confirmed infections was a third of the April peak. The state's two-week case rate continued to be among the lowest nationally.