Genesee County imposing face mask mandate for kindergarten through sixth grade students and staff

Local school districts will have to require masks now despite earlier rules making them optional
Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 2:07 PM EDT
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GENESEE COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - Students and school staff in kindergarten through sixth grade will have to mask up when they return to class in Genesee County this fall.

The Genesee County Health Department announced an indoor mask mandate for students and staff in kindergarten through sixth grade in all schools in the county on Thursday afternoon regardless of COVID-19 vaccine status.

Students above sixth grade are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings at school, but the mandate does not apply to them.

The measure supersedes local school district policies, most of which didn’t require masks this fall. It also extends to youth camps, youth programs, child care centers, tutoring centers, preschools, vocational schools, colleges, universities and other organized educational activities outside homes.

Flint Community Schools is the only district in Genesee County to announce a requirement for face coverings this fall. Clio, Davison, Grand Blanc and other school districts announced optional mask rules, but they will have to make face coverings mandatory in kindergarten through sixth grade now with the health department order.

“As our numbers are going back up, we’re taking this opportunity to try and make sure that our numbers don’t go up in school settings, because it is a priority to have children learning in person,” said Genesee County Medical Health Director Dr. Pamela Hackert.

Genesee County mask press conference

Genesee County Health Department press conference on a new mask mandate for students and school staff in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Posted by ABC12: First In-Depth Everywhere WJRT-TV on Thursday, August 12, 2021

The order was made under authority granted to local health departments and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in the state Public Health Code of 1978. That is the same law the state health department used in 2020 and 2021 to make several COVID-19 orders.

The health department says the order will remain in place until two months after a COVID-19 vaccine is available for children age 5 to 11, Genesee County’s COVID-19 transmission rate is categorized as “low” or “moderate” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or until further notice from Hackert.

The Genesee County mask order includes exceptions for eating and drinking. It also does not apply to outdoor activities unless there is direct physical contact, students younger than age 5, neurodivergent students, teachers working with hard of hearing students or others who depend on facial cues or anyone with a doctor’s note confirming a medical reason for an exemption.

The school mask mandate comes as COVID-19 infection rates have been increasing across Mid-Michigan. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported the highest daily average of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in three months on Wednesday.

New data from the agency shows that children from birth to age 9 are seeing the highest increase of COVID-19 infections of all age groups in Michigan. They are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, which only is offered to children age 12 and older.

Genesee County currently is at the highest risk level for COVID-19 spread on the MI Safe Start map with a seven-day average of 86 new cases of the illness per million people every day.

The health department says 90% of new COVID-19 infections in Genesee County are linked to the delta variant, which is more contagious than the original coronavirus strain.

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