Sunday, September 19US News

Oakland County to require masks for more than 200,000 students

Oakland County health officials issued an emergency health order on Tuesday requiring masks for students and staff in all preschools and K-12 public schools regardless of vaccination status.

The Oakland County Health Division issued the order that impacts about 210,000 students across 28 public school districts and 22 charter schools academies.

The order also applies to daycare centers and vocational schools.

“Our top priority is keeping students in school for in-person learning,” Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said. “Masking is one of the best defenses against increased transmission of COVID and higher hospitalization rates among kids. This order allows teachers to get back to educating our students and focusing on their success.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Oakland County is at substantial risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially the delta variant.

COVID-19 transmission is high enough in all but two of Michigan’s 83 counties that an overwhelming majority of Michigan residents should be wearing masks while in public under federal guidelines, according to the latest data from the CDC.

Of the 2,740 new cases of COVID-19 in Oakland County from Aug. 4-17, more than one in six were school-age children, county officials said.

More than 52,000 Oakland County residents ages 12-19 years old remain unvaccinated as the 2021-22 school year gets underway. Students younger than 12 years are ineligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The mandate will remain in place until the county is at a moderate level of transmission for COVID-19, the officials said. Oakland County is currently in substantial transmission mode, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the 28 local districts in Oakland County, nine already have mask mandates in place, nine have announced mask optional policies and 10 districts were undetermined.

Steve Matthews, superintendent of Novi Community Schools, which had recommended masks but did not require them, said he welcomes the decision by county health officials.

“It’s a very positive thing that Oakland County health stepped up and issued this,” said Matthews, who confirmed the pending announcement to The News. “They were putting superintendents in a position to justify why they were or were not issuing a mandate in their district and superintendents should not be put in that decision – it’s a health department issue.”

Matthews said while his community was divided on the issue with some families wanting a mandate and others wanting the freedom to choose, “Now it helps us move forward.”

Gerard Hill, superintendent of West Bloomfield schools, said the county’s decision provides the support local districts need to protect students and staff in schools.

“I think it’s great news that the Oakland County Health Department is stepping up and doing their job. And I applaud them for that,” said Hill, who also confirmed the announcement will be made later Tuesday.

Hill said his district had decided Monday night to approve a mask mandate for students and staff. The board had unanimously approved the policy for the start of school on Monday.

“I think we all have to take a step back and realize we are in a much better position this year than last year. We are offering full days, five days a week in person,” Hill said. “Masking is a critical strategy to maintain that. Without masking we would be closing schools on a regular basis. With masking, we can make it through this.”

Parent Christina Gadde was elated to hear the news Tuesday that her children’s district – Rochester Community Schools – is now required to have students and staff be masked inside buildings.

Gadde was so upset at the district’s mask optional policy that this week she enrolled her second-grader and fourth-grader into the district’s virtual learning program to keep them home and safe.

“We are excited our children will be able to go to school in person,” Gadde said on Tuesday. “Health and safety should always be the number one priority. It’s really fantastic leaders are stepping up and prioritizing kids’ well-being. The moral thing is being done here.”

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