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Michigan’s top doc urges schools to require masks in the fall

Students discuss plans in class, sitting in distanced desks wearing protective masks.

Max Herman for Chalkbeat

Don’t toss those face masks just yet.

Students and teachers should keep wearing them when they return to school in the fall, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The department’s announcement Friday came as a recommendation, not a requirement.

The aim is to protect people who are not fully vaccinated against COVID.

Fifty-six percent of Michiganders 12 and older have received at least  the first dose of the vaccine, said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the agency’s chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. Younger children are not yet eligible for the vaccines. 

“These vaccines are the reason transmission of the virus in Michigan is at the lowest point in a year,” Khaldun said. “However, as the school environment brings together large groups of individuals who may not yet be vaccinated, MDHHS is issuing this guidance to help protect Michiganders of all ages.” 

Some, though, say the mask recommendation is unreasonable. Vaccination rates are rising and young children are at the lowest risk of contracting COVID-19 or experiencing serious symptoms, said Beth DeShone, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, an advocacy group that supports school improvement and school choice. 

“We’ll have to see what happens between now and August” with COVID cases, said Robert McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, a school advocacy group that works closely with superintendents around the state. “We obviously are trying to make sure we’re doing what’s best for our kids. And individual parents are obviously welcome to have their children wear masks.

“But when kids are not asked to wear masks elsewhere, the days of mandates in school are past.”

Across the country some states recently relaxed mask mandates but school districts in cities such as Detroit, Indianapolis, and New York City still plan to require them.

Although Friday’s guidance was issued specifically for schools, it is relevant to child care centers and after-school providers as well, the agency said.

Its recommendations for schools include promoting vaccination, implementing contact tracing, cleaning frequently, increasing ventilation, and keeping cohort groups together to reduce potential exposures.

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