Michigan schools without mask mandates have the most severe outbreaks

Nov 2, 2021 at 11:33 am
click to enlarge Schools without masks mandates are reporting the largest outbreaks in Michigan. - Shutterstock
Schools without masks mandates are reporting the largest outbreaks in Michigan.

Macomb County, the only county in metro Detroit without a mask mandate in its schools, continues to lead the state in the number of students infected during COVID-19 outbreaks.

In Macomb County, 31 outbreaks in schools have infected 589 students, as of Monday. By comparison, outbreaks have infected 113 students in Oakland, 110 in Washtenaw, 31 in Detroit, and 117 in the rest of Wayne County, all of which require masks in schools.

Two months into the school year, it is becoming increasingly clear that masks are an effective tool to combat the spread of COVID-19. Nine of the 10 counties in Michigan with the most students infected during COVID-19 outbreaks don’t require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks, a Metro Times analysis found.

When outbreaks occur, they are far more severe in schools without mask mandates. In Macomb County, for example, an average of 19 students have been infected during an outbreak. The average is 4.2 in Oakland and 5.9 in Wayne.

In Detroit, there are only two ongoing outbreaks, affecting a total of 31 students, or an average of 15.5.

Hundreds of parents in Macomb County have been calling on health and school officials to impose mask mandates, but to no avail. A group called Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person School (MCPSIS) has held protests, warning that outbreaks were likely to be severe.

“Macomb County has always wanted to be No. 1 in something, but someone needs to tell the health department that being No. 1 in spreading COVID-19 shouldn’t be one of them,” Emily Mellits, a Washington Township parent and MCPSIS member, tells Metro Times. “My son’s classroom was just shut down and forced to go remote for a week due to multiple cases in his classroom. He was already quarantined for a week in September for being a close contact. This sort of chaos has a profound impact on both family’s income and children’s ability to learn. The sad truth is, most of this could be prevented if Macomb leaders would do what successful neighboring counties do – require masks in schools.”

The number of schools reporting outbreaks is increasing. On Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 101 new outbreaks in schools statewide. In the previous week, the state reported 75 outbreaks.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration opted not to impose mask mandates at schools, but state officials are encouraging counties and school districts to require masks on the local level.

“The state is committed to ensuring Michigan students and educators are as safe as possible in the classroom,” MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin tells Metro Times. “We have issued school guidance that strongly recommends a universal mask mandate in schools along with other CDC-developed prevention strategies that schools and local health departments can use together to reduce the spread of COVID-19, maintain in-person learning, and protect people who are not yet fully vaccinated. MDHHS has also provided guidance to help K-12 schools maintain in-person learning by outlining mitigation strategies when students are exposed to another student infected with COVID-19.”

On Friday, the Food & Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. But a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that only 27% of parents are planning to get their children vaccinated right away.

Whitmer issued an executive order on Oct. 26 to accelerate the distribution of pediatric doses once they become available.

“This is a game-changer for our kids that will protect them as they continue to learn in-person in the classroom this school year, participate in extracurricular activities, or see friends and family this holiday season,” Whitmer said in a statement. “My directive today ensures equitable, expedited distribution of the vaccines.”

Schools remain one of the biggest sources of COVID-19 outbreaks and could play a significant role in determining the severity of future infections in the state.

Number of students infected in school outbreaks in Michigan, as reported Monday. - Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person School
Macomb County Parents for Safe In-Person School
Number of students infected in school outbreaks in Michigan, as reported Monday.

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