Advance Notice: Briefs

Whitmer punts again on statewide mask mandate while cases rise in schools

By: - September 9, 2021 2:12 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a Kent County education roundtable, Sept. 9. 2021, | Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer isn’t ready for the state to issue a statewide mask mandate for students, despite reports of COVID-19 outbreaks in dozens of schools across the state. 

The state reported, as of Tuesday, 31 K-12 schools and four universities are reporting new or ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We are relying on school districts to work with our local public health experts to develop policies and enlist the support of the community. We know that broad mandates are only so effective, and when they happen at the local level it increases compliance,” Whitmer told reporters Thursday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hosted a roundtable event with educators, school administrators and students from Wyoming Public Schools near Grand Rapids on Sept. 9, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

A mask order would come from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, as the Legislature last month approved a measure stripping Whitmer of the authority to issue emergency measures.

Whitmer hosted a roundtable event with educators, school administrators and students from Wyoming Public Schools near Grand Rapids to talk about the start of another school year affected by COVID-19. 

The event, which was held at Oriole Elementary School in Wyoming, was closed to the media, but Whitmer took some questions from reporters afterward. 

Whitmer said she applauds the local school districts that have implemented their own mask mandates, which about 60% of the state’s students attend.  

At least 15 county health departments, including some of the state’s most populous counties, have a mask mandate in place for school districts — including Kent County, where Thursday’s roundtable took place. Whitmer’s office says more than 60% of Michigan students attend schools with mask requirements.

Not all parents are on board with another year of masking students, however, and there have been reports of some residents threatening local school board members and public health officials. 

“We’ve seen in this environment that people are making all sorts of threats. Certainly I’ve been the target of some,” said Whitmer, who was the subject of an alleged kidnapping and murder plot last year over her COVID orders. “And I hate to see it happen, whether it’s a local municipal leader or a school board member or public health official.

“It is never okay for someone to make a threat of physical violence against anyone else, especially someone who is working so hard, putting in tireless hours to keep people safe. They’re just doing their jobs and we need to give them our respect and our support. And we need to give one another a little bit of grace.” 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.