Berrien County Health Department issues order requiring masks in schools

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Posted at 12:32 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 12:32:26-04

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Berrien County health officials have issued a public health order requiring face masks in indoor educational settings.

The order applies to everyone in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, regardless of vaccination status, according to a news release Wednesday.

It goes into effect Monday, Sept. 6 and will remain in effect until community transmission is categorized as “low” or “moderate” for a period of 21 consecutive days and no increase has been observed in hospitalizations and deaths during that same period.

Preschools, primary, secondary and vocational schools, youth camps and programs, child care and tutoring centers, colleges, universities and other organized activities “outside of the home where coursework is taught” are all included in the mandate.

“Our top priority is keeping students in school for in-person learning,” said Courtney Davis, acting health officer for the Berrien County Health Department. “With the rapid increases in COVID-19 transmission over the past month, it is imperative that we take this action to keep students and teachers healthy and safe in the classroom. While we are still learning about the potential impacts of the highly contagious delta variant that is present in Berrien County, what we do know is that masking is one of the best defenses against COVID-19 transmission.”

Health officials say they issued the order after “thorough evaluation of local, regional and state data and conditions.”

Under the Michigan Public Health Code, local public health officers are authorized to “take actions and make determinations necessary or appropriate to carry out the local health department’s functions to protect the public health and prevent disease.”

The CDC has indicated that Berrien County is currently at high risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially the delta variant.

Berrien County’s seven-day cumulative case rate is 167.5 per 100,000 people, which represents an average of 37 new cases per day between Aug. 24-30.

The county’s seven-day average test positivity rate has climbed to 12.7%.

“With less than 35% of adolescents ages 12-19 fully vaccinated and those younger than 12 without the opportunity to receive the vaccine, further action is needed to protect the health of all individuals in our school systems,” said Dr. Rex Cabaltica, medical director for the Berrien County Health Department.

The public health order doesn’t apply to:

  • Those actively eating or drinking
  • People participating in activities outdoors
  • Children under the age of 4, though supervised masking is recommended for those age 2 and older
  • Neurodivergent students of any age attending school, although supervised masking is encouraged
  • Teachers who are working with children who are hard of hearing or neurodivergent students and where masking would inhibit instruction. These teachers or staff should be fully vaccinated or comply with masking directives.
  • Those who have a current medical reason confirmed in writing from a board-certified medical doctor or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine currently licensed to practice medicine

Read the full public health order here.