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Michigan's local health leaders want statewide K-12 mask mandate after threats, harassment

Kristen Jordan Shamus and Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press on

Published in News & Features

"It has been a very difficult decision to be forced to choose between what is best for the public's current health situation versus the future of our essential public health programs that will hopefully continue to serve our community for years to come."

Whitmer's office has said she will approve the budget, but her spokesman, Bobby Leddy, said Friday it won't come at the cost of public health.

"Gov. Whitmer has always said that she would protect public health measures that save lives and oppose any attempts to undermine or restrict basic lifesaving actions throughout this pandemic," Leddy said.

"We are still completing a thorough legal review and will have more to say when the governor signs this legislation next week, but this dangerous language which ties the hands of public health professionals is unconstitutional and the governor will declare it unenforceable. The state of Michigan will not withhold funding from local health departments for implementing universal mask policies or quarantine protocols in local schools that are designed to keep students safe so they can continue learning in person."

Though Whitmer's office pledged to maintain funding to local health departments, she has said in recent weeks that her administration is not considering any broad pandemic mandates — whether it be for COVID-19 vaccines or masks in schools.

Those decisions, she has said, should be made by local health departments and school districts — even when angry parents storm public meetings, threatening those health officials and school leaders, even when maskless students press their way into schools, saying mandates are unenforceable.

 

"The state's approach to push this down to the local level is not going well," Derusha said. "It's putting local health officers and local school superintendents in an impossible position that we are ill equipped to handle and it should not be done that way. This is a statewide issue. The state should be taking action here."

That's especially true, he said, as COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations grow and a rising number of coronavirus outbreaks are being identified among schoolchildren.

K-12 schools were the source of the largest number of coronavirus outbreaks statewide last week — with 218 new and ongoing outbreaks as of Sept. 20, the health department reported. Its data showed more transmission in schools where masks were not required.

Every day in the last week, more than 315 Michigan children under the age of 12 have been newly diagnosed with the virus — that's a rise of 80 cases in kids per day over the week before. Statewide, children ages 10 to 19 have the highest rate of infection, health department data show.

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