Health board discusses face masks for schools in counties Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego

The Northwestern Michigan Health Department’s school mask mandate remains in place at this time, but health worker Lisa Peacock said discussions have begun regarding the possibility of lifting the mandate.

At Tuesday’s health department health board meeting, Peacock said she meets with area school superintendents every two weeks and talks about lifting the mandate began in December. As things stand, all schools in the county area – Counties Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego – are required to require students, staff and visitors to wear masks in schools. school buildings.

The school masking order was originally issued on August 27, 2021 due to an increase in cases, strained hospital capacity and many unvaccinated children, according to Peacock.

It was amended Nov. 9 due to health department communication with superintendents about the start of indoor sports and performing arts and challenges with masking, allowing exemption from masking during active participation if you also participate in weekly test programs.

“The overall goal of the mask mandate was and is to protect students, school staff and the community as a whole,” Peacock said.

Peacock added that the mandate is backed by “overwhelming medical evidence and recommendations by leading local, state and national health providers and agencies.”

She also said there was “continuing evidence to support post-school masking” in the fall of 2021.

School districts without a mask requirement are experiencing higher rates of COVID-19 cases, according to a Peacock report.

“Case rates for the 5- to 18-year-old school population are higher and have increased faster in districts with no mask requirement,” she said.

Districts with full or partial mask requirements have seen lower case rates with slower increases, but Peacock also noted that districts with mask rules may have other preventative measures (vaccination, testing, etc. .) that reduce transmission levels.

Peacock presented information to the board of health indicating that the 2021 return to school saw COVID-19 case rates increase for all ages of students, but the increases were greatest for counties in Michigan. without school masking.

“All mask levels and age groups had similar case rates before the back-to-school period,” Peacock reported. “During the start of the school year, all counties saw some increase in case rates, with higher increases for school-age populations. However, the increases were larger for counties with fewer mask requirements.

In counties without a school mask requirement, case rates more than tripled after school resumed for school-aged people and doubled for non-school-aged people, according to Peacock.

Peacock said each week the health department assesses pandemic risk indicators such as case rates, positivity, outbreaks, health care capacity and functioning of vital infrastructure, as well as meetings with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and local leaders.

She said they intend to make changes to pandemic responses as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

“The next two to three weeks are critical in determining the trajectory of hospitalizations and deaths in the post-omicron surge,” Peacock said. “The evidence indicates that this is a different period than what we have known before.”

Peacock said COVID-19 cases had spiked recently but “appeared to be declining” and hospitalization rates “did not rise sharply” in correlation.

“Other areas are seeing cases go down,” Peacock said. “Our area had a small increase again this week, but hopefully we will follow the other areas and next week I can tell you that the cases have gone down.”

If, over the next one to two weeks, deaths do not increase with the omicron surge (which tends to follow a surge of a few weeks), “maybe it’s time” to re-examine the requirements when it comes to school masks, Peacock said.

Several parents spoke out against the mask mandate at Tuesday’s meeting.

“My children have suffered from these mask mandates,” Christa Zelkowski said, adding that they struggled to learn because of the physical barrier created by the masks.

Jarris Rubingh, board member and County Antrim Commissioner, also said: ‘I’ve always thought schools should be able to decide for themselves.

According to Peacock, in Charlevoix County, 23.5% of children aged 5 to 11 are vaccinated, as are 36.6% of 12-15 year olds and 53.1% of 16-19 year olds. In Emmet County, 30% of 5-11 year olds are vaccinated, along with 54.1% of 12-15 year olds and 63.6% of 16-19 year olds. In Otsego County, the figures are 15.2% of 5-11 year olds, 38% of 12-15 year olds and 45.4% of 16-19 year olds.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Health board discusses ongoing school mask mandate

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