Keep wearing masks in classroom, other sites, Michigan health department urges

Lansing — Regardless of whether individuals are vaccinated, students and staff should continue wearing masks in classrooms, guidance issued Thursday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said.

The recommendations came as Michigan's COVID-19 infection rates have dropped and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has begun rolling back general mask requirements and limitations on gatherings. The Democratic governor announced Thursday that the state's broad mask and gathering epidemic order would end on July 1.

All individuals should continue to wear masks in classrooms, residential care facilities, hospitals, jails, prisons and homeless shelters and while playing indoor contact sports or riding public transportation, the new health department guidance says.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, addresses the media. The state health department is urging all individuals to keep wearing masks in classrooms, residential care facilities, hospitals, jails, prisons and homeless shelters and while playing indoor contact sports or riding public transportation.

"Continually changing the rules is disruptive" in education, and making changes close to the end of the school year is "particularly challenging," said Wendy Zdeb, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.  

Issues of comfort and a sense of security connected to mask wearing already are a "contentious issue" among students and educators in what has been "a difficult school year," she said in a statement.

"We hope our communities will continue to support their local districts and extend them some grace as they try to navigate these new rules," Zdeb said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended that schools continue current COVID-19 prevention strategies through the end of the school year. The strategies include prioritizing "universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing."

"Because most students remain unvaccinated, schools and childcare providers should continue to follow the COVID-19 prevention strategies outlined in the current version of the CDC’s Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools for at least the remainder of the 2020-2021 academic school year, including masking when indoors," the new state guidance says.

On Saturday, Whitmer's administration lifted mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals across the state. It had previously dropped general requirements that masks be worn outside regardless of vaccination status.

The Thursday guidance from the department of health says people who are not fully vaccinated should wear masks in crowded outdoor settings, such as a live performance, a parade or a sporting event and while participating in outdoor contact sports.

The state Department of Health and Human Services reported 11,991 new coronavirus infections last week, a 52% decrease from the total two weeks earlier. Similarly, the percentage of tests bringing positive results dropped to 6.8% last week, less than half the percentage in early April, when Michigan faced spikes in hospitalizations and cases.

Michigan led the nation in new cases per population for longer than a month beginning at the end of March, according to CDC data. However, now Michigan ranks 10th.

Almost 57% of adults 16 years and older had received at least one dose of vaccine through Thursday, including those who got vaccinated out of state, according to the state health department's website.