LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s second-largest county on Friday is dropping a mask requirement for schools and day care facilities, pointing to sharp declines in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and rising vaccination rates.
The announcement by the Oakland County Health Division came a day after another big county, Ingham in the Lansing area, lifted its mandate. Oakland’s order will end Feb 28.
“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,” Dr. Russell Faust, the county’s medical director, said in a statement. “We must remain vigilant, however, while we remain in a pandemic.”
He strongly recommended masking in public indoor settings, including educational settings. School districts and day care centers will decide whether or not to still require masks.
“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,” Oakland County’s Director of Health and Human Services Leigh-Anne Stafford said. “As the local public health agency, we are committed to continuing our support of local school districts by providing best practices, current COVID-19 data, and recommendations for staying safe and healthy.”
The Health Division reported the county’s test positivity has dropped nearly 50%; cases of COVID-19 during the week ending Feb. 6 declined 40%, and the seven-day case average for Feb. 8 declined 83% from its peak in early January. Hospital admissions in Oakland County for adults dropped 72% since the peak on Jan. 10 and declined 67 percent for children since the highest admissions on Jan. 8.
According to the county’s vaccine dashboard, 72% of residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, with 33% of kids ages 5-11 and 73% of teens ages 16 and older receiving the primary series of vaccine doses.
Mandates stir controversy across state and country
Mask mandates have been controversial in many districts across the state and across the country.
Eric Kaardel is a lawyer for the Thomas More Society who was preparing to sue Walled Lake Consolidated Schools on behalf of parents unhappy with the requirement that children wear masks in that district.
“In this case, it’s really exciting that we’re seeking just prospective relief, not money. And so the end of the mandate is the end of the lawsuit, or the filing of the lawsuit.”
The lawsuit would have argued the schools, health department and state were in violation of a law passed in 2021 that prohibited health departments from requiring children to wear masks.
WDET reporter Sascha Raiyn contributed to this report.