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MDHHS director: There won't be a statewide mask mandate at this point

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Posted at 7:10 AM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 07:10:34-04

LANSING, Mich. — With some schools back in session and others just days away from the first bell, the debate over mask mandates is only heating up.

Elizabeth Hertel, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director, said that while she strongly encourages masks indoors in schools, at this point, there will not be a statewide mask mandate.

This comes despite the fact that the CDC said all of our local counties are currently experiencing "high transmission," meaning masks are encouraged both indoors and outdoors where social distancing isn't possible.

Right now, the state continues to leave the masking issue up to individual school districts. Statewide, most have some level of masking requirement.

"We continue to echo the recommendations of the CDC for masking, in particular, indoors for persons who are both vaccinated and unvaccinated," Hertel said.

In the past couple of weeks, health departments in Oakland and Wayne counties have issued mask mandates for schools. Washtenaw County is expected to follow suit in the coming days.

Hertel said they'll keep an eye on case counts and re-assess as needed, but for now, she doesn't anticipate a statewide mask mandate.

According to state figures, just more than 60% of kids 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 56% are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Justin Skrzynski with Beaumont Health recommends kids mask up, based on the fast-spreading delta variant and the likelihood of transmission to others.

"One of the big problems is that kids can still transmit COVID-19, and we know that vulnerable adult that can have a worse outcome," he said.

As of Friday, more than 53% of Michigan students live in a district with some form of a mask requirement, something the Whitmer administration supports at the local level.

"Masks are our simplest, non-invasive way to make sure that we are lessening the spread," Hertel said.

If vaccination rates don't move, and the delta variant continues to spread, Skrzynski said we could be looking at another wave.

"Right now during the summer months when we expect cases to be low, we see them relatively high compared to last year," he said.

The number of districts with mask mandates is growing. Right now, it's at 179.