Genesee County requires masks for K-6 students, staff in schools

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Genesee County students in kindergarten through sixth grades as well as teachers and staff must wear masks in schools and other settings regardless of vaccination status, health officials announced Thursday.

The Genesee County Health Department issued an order, effective immediately, requiring coverings for the children and workers in school buildings, youth camps, childcare or tutoring centers "and other organized activities outside the home where coursework is taught."

The mandate states that it does not apply to kids under 5 years old, "neurodivergent students of any age," teachers working with children who are hard of hearing or benefit from facial cues or those who have a medical reason confirmed in writing by a licensed physician.

The health department cited masks helping reduce inhaling droplets that spread COVID-19 and the rising cases of the delta variant, the dominant strain in Michigan that "is

significantly more contagious than the original form that entered the United States in

winter 2020.

"While the risk of severe disease is lower in children, low risk does not

equal no risk. In 23 states, 0.1% to 1.9% of all pediatric COVID cases resulted in


The order remains in effect until two months after a vaccine is approved and available for students 5-11 years, and the Centers for Disease Control categorizes community transmission as "low" or "moderate."

Michigan's latest data shows delta cases have doubled in the last four weeks, while the overall virus positivity rate has increased in the last five.

As of Wednesday, 755 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 169 in an intensive care unit and 67 other patients on ventilators. The majority of patients hospitalized from the virus are unvaccinated, the state health department said.

Nearly half of Michigan residents live in counties where the federal government is urging the fully vaccinated to wear masks in public indoor settings because transmission of the coronavirus is “high” or “substantial," according to the C

As the cases rises, the Michigan Board of Education this week approved a resolution supporting independence for local school districts to make "scientifically informed decisions," including mask mandates.

On Thursday, the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended everyone older than age 2 wear masks in schools this fall.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration has also supported universal masking in K-12 school buildings, but the decision is left with districts.

Some have opted to impose such policies.

Detroit Public Schools Community District students and staff will wear masks this academic year regardless of their vaccination status and employees must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, according to a plan the board of Education adopted Tuesday.

In Genesee County, the Flint Community Schools superintendent recently announced masks would be required for everyone who enters district buildings.

Other districts, like Grosse Pointe Public School System, have made masks optional.