The Oakland County Health Division became the most recent health department Friday to announce the lifting of its mask mandate for students.
Oakland County’s decision to lift its school mask requirement — effective Feb. 28 — came after parents from Walled Lake Consolidated Schools sent demand letters to Oakland County officials and school district leaders earlier this week seeking an end to mask mandates and the use of public funds to enforce them.
In its statement announcing the rescission of the mandate, Oakland County said its decision was driven by a “sharp decline” in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, accompanied by a high vaccination rate.
“As we see our critical measures of vaccinations, hospital admissions, and cases moving in a direction that tell us the COVID-19 impact on our community is greatly improving, the time is right to remove the mask order for daycares and educational institutions,” said Health Division Medical Director Dr. Russell Faust.
Ingham County Health Department announced the end of its mandate Thursday. Washtenaw County and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan could follow suit later Friday.
Should Washtenaw and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan announce a rescission, it would leave two health departments with continuing mandates: Wayne County and the Benzie-Leelanau District.
The Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools asked for a better explanation of the data supporting the decisions to rescind mask mandates, especially as the state remains high on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s transmission monitor. The group asked school districts to make their own policies requiring masks, especially for those who have had recent contact with a COVID-positive individual.
“This rapid, dramatic rush for ‘exit ramps’ from masking have not been adequately explained and seem to ignore the continued risk faced by so many,” said Jennifer Tuksal, a Rochester Hills member of the group.
“At the same time, no one is talking about what ‘on ramps’ they will use to determine if masks need to be worn again in schools, whether it’s in the next few weeks or when a new more contagious variant emerges.”
The Oakland County health department said the two-week notice about ending the mandate will allow local school districts to prepare families and schools as well as allow school boards to put their own mandates in place if they would like to.
The decision came as the CDC and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services keep in place recommendations that urgent masking in public indoor spaces. Oakland County said it still “strongly recommends” students and others wear masks in public indoor settings.
Washtenaw County officials indicated Thursday that county may be on the same path as Oakland County.
“With declining cases and improved hospital capacity, we are reviewing and watching carefully,” said Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw Health Department. “We do expect to announce updates soon—likely tomorrow.”
Oakland County’s cases of COVID-19 dropped 40% the week of Feb. 6 and hospital admissions for adults dropped 72% from the peak on Jan. 10, according to county data.
About 76% of Oakland County residents over the age of 5 are vaccinated with at least a first dose. For people over the age of 12, the percentage vaccination climbs to 79%.
“We are now at a place in the pandemic where an emergency health order should be replaced by individual action to protect ourselves, especially masking in public and getting vaccinated,” said Leigh-Anne Stafford, director of health and human services for Oakland County.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism