Genesee County health officials report death threat after mask mandate issued

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Two Genesee County health officials say they received a death threat this week amid plans to implement a mask mandate for students.

Pamela Hackert, the medical health officer with the Genesee County Health Department, told The Detroit News she and deputy Health Officer Kayleigh Blaney received the threat by phone on Tuesday.

Hackert declined further comment Wednesday, citing an ongoing investigation.

She said the threat was reported to the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and authorities "moved quickly."

A large crowd gathered outside the Oakland County health division offices on Wednesday to protest the county's mask mandate for K-12 students.

The Genesee County Sheriff told the Mid-Michigan NOW station on Wednesday that one person had been arrested in connection with the threat.

Sheriff's officials said they could not confirm an arrest or details in the case Wednesday night.

The Genesee County Prosecutor's Office did not immediately respond to several requests for comment Wednesday. 

The reported threat came nearly two weeks after the county health department issued an order that students in kindergarten through sixth grades as well as teachers and staff must wear masks in schools and other settings regardless of vaccination status.

Controversy over such policies has emerged across Michigan as the new school year approaches.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has defended her decision not to issue a statewide mask mandate despite advice from the state's chief medical executive as well as urging from federal officials and the White House.

She told reporters Monday there are mitigating measures such as vaccines. "We now have tools so that we can take action to protect ourselves and those around us," she said.

Whitmer added that nearly 35% of Michigan students were in districts that have implemented mask requirements.

Oakland County announced one Tuesday requiring masks for students and staff in all preschools as well as K-12 public schools regardless of vaccination status.

On Wednesday, more than 150 parents and students rallied outside of county offices to protest the decision.

About 25 people turned out for a rally in front of the Macomb County Health Department in Mount Clemens on Wednesday to call on the department to mandate mask wearing for the county's K-12 students.

Hours later, parents gathered at the Macomb County Health Department calling on officials to issue a mask mandate.

The debate comes as state health department officials remain cautious as new COVID-19 variants spread.

COVID-19 transmission is high enough in all but two of Michigan's 83 counties that most state residents are urged under federal guidelines to wear masks in public, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Wednesday, Michigan added 4,326 new COVID-19 cases and 38 deaths from the virus. The figures brought overall totals to 937,720 cases and 20,161 deaths since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Last week, the state reported 10,807 new cases, up 14% from the 9,467 cases disclosed over the previous seven-day period.

Michigan's COVID-19 hospitalizations now exceed 1,100 inpatients, and new infection numbers have been climbing for a month.

Through Wednesday, 65.3% of Michigan residents age 16 or older had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the state health department.