Washtenaw County plans K-12 mask mandate, official says

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Washtenaw County plans to issue a mask mandate for its schools, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The county health department order would cover K-12 students, spokeswoman Susan Ringler Cerniglia told The Detroit News in an email.

"We expect this to be ready/issued Thursday for implementation the first school day after the Labor Day weekend," she wrote. 

The Washtenaw County Health Department vaccinated first responders during the pandemic.

The county has reported nearly 600 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, according to its website. There were 55 between Monday and Tuesday.

Washtenaw would join other county health departments in Michigan, as well as some school districts, imposing mask mandates before the new academic year as coronavirus cases climb and concerns about the more contagious delta variant remain.

Wayne and Oakland counties have implemented mask orders for K-12 schools. Others statewide include Kalamazoo, Allegan, Kent and Ottawa. Some, such as Genesee, only require masks for students in grades K-6.

Macomb County health officials and school superintendents have been exploring strategies. Last week, some parents, residents and community members protested a lack of a mandate countywide.

Several Macomb districts have mask mandates, such as Warren Consolidated Schools, while others do not, including Utica Community Schools, the county's largest.

Meanwhile, state health officials reported nine new COVID-19 school outbreaks Monday, including seven at K-12 institutions.

Michigan added 5,020 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths on Monday, including totals from Saturday and Sunday. 

That pushed overall totals to 946,698 cases and 20,256 deaths since the virus was first detected in the state in March 2020, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Transmission rates have increased to the point that the entire state should now wear a mask when indoors in public, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has defended her decision to not issue a statewide student mask mandate, although the administration has recommended universal masking in schools.

Districts and local public health leaders should work together to implement mask guidelines and "create buy-in at the community level," she said in a statement Friday after Wayne County issued its mask requirement.

As of Friday, more than 53% of Michigan's students lived in districts covered by some level of mask requirement, the governor's office said.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told the Detroit News Tuesday a statewide mask order is still possible. She said she'll monitor new case rates, hospitalizations, health care capacity and vaccination rates in the coming weeks and months.