Advance Notice: Briefs

Macomb Co. parents group demands school mask mandate amid soaring COVID cases

By: - October 20, 2021 8:19 am

“We wanted to come out and support our health care workers for all the work they’ve been doing to keep up safe during this pandemic and more importantly keeping our children safe,” said Macomb County Commissioner Mai Xiong, a mother of four, three of whom are school age, Oct. 4, 2021 | Ken Coleman

As Macomb County leads school COVID-19 case spikes, a parents group is again calling on the Macomb County Health Department to institute a countywide mask mandate in pre-K-12 schools. Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person Schools notes that neighboring Oakland and Wayne counties in Southeast Michigan have mask mandates in schools and are not seeing a sharp rise in outbreaks.

“By repeatedly choosing to ignore science and data and refusing to implement a countywide mask mandate in schools, Macomb County’s response to the pandemic is more than embarrassing and reckless, it is outright dangerous, said Emily Mellits, a Washington Township parent and member of Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person Schools. “As a result, Macomb County alone is responsible for 56% of all outbreaks across Michigan, which means more classroom quarantines, more hospitals overcrowding and more deaths. Parents call upon the Macomb County Health Department and county leaders to reject anti-science bullying, show courage and fight the virus.”

There is no statewide mask mandate for schools, unlike last school year. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have encouraged local officials to adopt measures for the 2021-22 school year, especially as children under 12 are not eligible to get vaccinated.

Several local health departments, however, have rescinded their mask policies in recent weeks amid concern that language in the state budget inserted by Republicans says their funding could get pulled. Whitmer has told health departments the language is unconstitutional.

As the Advance reported Monday, there are 101 new school COVID-19 outbreaks in the last week. To be considered an outbreak, the local health department must have found three or more COVID-19 cases that may have shared exposure on school grounds and are from different households. Previously, the state considered an outbreak to be two or more COVID-19 cases.

Macomb County this week had outbreaks in 25 schools accounting for 484 new COVID cases out of a statewide total of 858. The top three schools with the most cases are Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township with 53 cases, Sterling Heights’ Stevenson High School with 45 and Romeo High School with 35. In comparison, Oakland County has no new COVID school related cases and Wayne County has 20 cases spread over three schools.

“Hospitals are filling up and short-staffed, families are experiencing tremendous pain and suffering, and children are getting very sick and spreading COVID-19 to their loved ones, so what exactly the Macomb County Health Department is waiting for to finally mandate masks in schools is a complete mystery,” Mellits said. “Refusing to defend our children and families from COVID-19 is also a betrayal of the public trust.”

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.