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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

And hospitalizations among children also are climbing. On Friday, 35 children with suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus had been admitted for treatment at hospitals statewide. That compares to just 13 children hospitalized with suspected or confirmed cases two months ago.

Despite those trends, a statewide mask mandate is not "warranted at this time," said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

"We're seeing some increases, but nothing that indicates a spike that would require action under the Public Health Code," Sutfin said in an email to the Free Press.

"Local health departments are in the best position to determine local needs. We deeply empathize with local health officers across the state who are doing their job and what they believe is right to protect their communities. Although we support everyone's right to voice their opinion in dissent, local officials do not deserve to be threatened in any way, particularly when the actions they are taking are intended to protect the health and safety of all residents in their communities.

"As of today, nearly 65% of students in traditional public schools are protected by the mask guidance that we've offered. We thank the schools and local health departments that have enacted this simple and effective protective measure and encourage others to follow suit to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our state."

Derusha said local health officers need more support than that.


Their jobs are being threatened by county commissions. Their lives are being threatened and their families are being harassed.

"We live in these communities that we serve," said Derusha, who also is the health officer for the LMAS District Health Department, which includes Luce, Mackinac, Alger and Schoolcraft counties. "People know where we live. They know where we work."

Some of his colleagues have installed security systems in their homes, and some have had to call police when they've been threatened. Many have retired or left public health altogether since the pandemic began.

"It's frightening," he said.


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