Whitmer: No plans for another pandemic mask order, maybe ever

Karen Bouffard Ben Wilson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday she's following developments on new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on mask wearing closely, but has no plans to bring back a requirement that people mask up indoors. 

The Democratic governor's remarks came as the federal agency recommended increased mask wearing to prevent transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19, which has become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States. 

The new CDC guidance urges that all teachers, staff and children at K-12 schools wear masks this fall, and that people who live in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission mask up indoors even if they're vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that wearing masks indoors in crowds remains a smart thing to do, but she doesn't envision her administration reviving a mask mandate.

"Some of you might be wondering what’s with the masks right? We thought that we didn’t have to wear masks anymore," Whitmer said at a Tuesday press conference in Detroit. 

"Getting vaccinated and wearing masks when we are inside and close together will always be a smart thing to do as long as COVID is around — and COVID will be around for a while," she said. 

"I do not anticipate another pandemic order, not in the near future and maybe not ever," Whitmer added. "The fact of the matter is we now know a lot more about this virus. We have vaccines." 

About 53.8% of Michigan's adults 16 years and older are fully vaccinated, according to the state health department's website.

The governor required masks under a 1945 emergency powers law that was later ruled unconstitutional and has since been eliminated under a petition initiative approved by the Michigan Legislature. But the state health department has the ability to require masks wearing under epidemic orders.

Michigan's Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun backed the CDC's measure without indicating if the state would follow suit.

"I am supportive of today’s @CDCgov guidance," Khaldun tweeted Tuesday. "Universal masking in schools and masks indoors in public spaces even if vaccinated when transmission is high is what we need to do right now to get ahead of this Delta variant. And please, most importantly, #GetVaccinated ASAP."

The recommendations were prompted by new data showing that people with "break-through" COVID-19 — meaning they caught the virus even though they were vaccinated — are as likely to transmit the disease as people with COVID-19 who were not vaccinated, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a Tuesday afternoon media briefing.

President Joe Biden said in a Tuesday statement that "I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it; I certainly will when I travel to these areas."

Today, the CDC also reaffirmed that we can safely reopen schools this fall—full time. Masking students is inconvenient, I know, but will allow them to learn and be with their classmates with the best available protection."

Half of the United States' adult population has secured a vaccine dose and as of Monday, 63%of Michigan residents 16 and older had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The development came as Michigan on Tuesday surpassed 900,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The state added 1,762 cases and 19 deaths from the virus on Tuesday including totals from Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

The figures bring Michigan's total number of cases to 901,683 and deaths to 19,902 since the virus was first detected in March 2020, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Michigan State University Epidemiology Professor Dr. Nigel Paneth said some people remain vulnerable to infection, even if they are vaccinated, and could potentially transmit the disease to others. So he recommends that people continue to wear masks indoors. 

"The current surge we have right now is not as bad as the surges we had last year, only because a lot of the most vulnerable people are vaccinated," Paneth added. "But there are still people dying and still people in hospitals.