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No ‘Broad Order’ On COVID Coming, But Schools Should Be Masking

August 17, 2021

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is not planning to issue any “broad COVID-19 epidemic orders” that would mandate masking or limit gatherings sizes, Director Elizabeth Hertel said Friday in an online press briefing. 

But the state’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is recommending “universal masking in every school,” advice the DHHS made later Friday afternoon in a press advisory. 
 
Khaldun’s comments were made in a briefing webinar Friday morning that also featured Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley and Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Susan Corbin. 
 
“When we did previously issue these orders that were broadly requiring masking and limiting gathering sizes, those were the best tools that we had to mitigate transmission of COVID-19,” Hertel said. “However, we now have three very safe effective vaccines available for the public. Limiting gathering sizes and masking we know saved lives, as has been evidenced by a study done by the University of Michigan, but again we now have three safe, effective vaccines available for anybody age 12 and up. And those have proven to be incredibly effective at limiting hospitalization and severe illness as a result of COVID-19.” 
 
Still, masking and social distancing remain important because the Delta variant is sweeping across the country, she said. 
 
Board of Education member Tom McMillin bit back at Friday’s guidance, saying the universal masking of all children in Michigan is “wrong” and amounts to “child abuse.” 
 
“If a parent weighs the risks due to a child’s health or to other family members and feels it is best for a child to wear a mask, that’s, of course, fine,” McMillin said. “But to require or urge local districts to require universal masking of children who are at very little risk of harm, is just plain horrible . . . 
 
“There is no credible scientific data that indicates imposing such harm on children, unnecessarily, is wise,” he added. 
 
Khaldun said that as students prepare to return to classrooms this fall, any youngster eligible for the vaccine, 12 and older, should get one. 
 
“There should be universal masking in every school. If you have an option where you are, you should absolutely strongly encourage or quite frankly make your children wear their masks to school. That is really, really important even if they are vaccinated,” Khaldun said. 
 
Preventing spread among children will keep them from having to be out of school and having to quarantine, which Khaldun said is important to in-person learning. 
 
Khaldun said the federal government is doing research now on a vaccine for children ages 6 to 11, which she hopes will be available by late fall or early winter. 
 
The recommendations concur with the advice of the Michigan Family Physicians, who are urging school districts and private school leaders to adopt mask requirements for Michigan schools this fall. 
 
Meanwhile, cases are on the rise. Positivity rates have risen from 2% to above 7% in the last six weeks. 
 
“Unfortunately, our case rate is also increasing. And importantly, we do sequence some samples of positive tests in the state. Unfortunately, over the past month, some 99% of those sampled that we are sequencing have actually been the Delta variant. We are seeing, unfortunately, an increase in the percent of beds that are being used across the state for people who have COVID 19. That is going up, as well,” Khaldun said. 
 
So, the “bread-and-butter public health mitigation measures” — including masking, distancing, hand washing and contact tracing — are still really important, she said. 
 
“I am a bit concerned that we could continue to see an increase in our cases as people go back to school and as the weather starts getting cooler and more and more people are going indoors,” Khaldun said. 
 
Corbin said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s 23 relief programs supported 25,000 companies and “retained more than 200,000 jobs” during the pandemic. 
 
“Michigan is already seeing promising results from the economic policies, increases in vaccines and other COVID mitigation measures that have helped businesses and working people recover from the pandemic. Our economy grew 7.6% in the first quarter of 2021. That was the best in the Midwest and higher than the national average, and puts us among the top ten states nationwide. An independent analysis shows our economic recovery is the second strongest nationwide,” Corbin said. 
 
But Calley said small businesses were hit hardest during the pandemic, while larger national businesses and online retailers actually grew. 
 
“There are certain advantages that a raging pandemic actually pushes to the larger businesses. Smaller businesses really need the pandemic to stay under control,” Calley said. 
 
He said he’s thankful there are no mandates on the table right now. 
 
“I also am absolutely determined to use this time to encourage everybody who wants to see the small business community thrive to get the vaccine,” Calley said. “And if you have had the vaccine to talk about it, to talk about the safety of it, the reason that you did it, to encourage other people to do it. This is the most important thing that you can do to support the small business community today is to promote the effectiveness and the safety of the vaccine.” 

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