Michigan health director explains lack of statewide school mask mandate

Elizabeth Hertel believes people are more apt to follow rules made locally compared to statewide mandates
Elizabeth Hertel testifies before lawmakers on Feb. 9.
Elizabeth Hertel testifies before lawmakers on Feb. 9.(WLUC)
Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 8:00 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - A letter to Michigan’s state board of education vice president explains why state health officials have not imposed a statewide mask mandate for schools this fall.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said a strong recommendation for mask rules in schools across the state remains in place. But she believes people are more apt to follow rules made at the local level rather than statewide mandates.

“Districts and local public health leaders should work together to implement mask mandates,” Hertel wrote to state board of education Vice President Pamela Pugh. “When they collaborate, we can create buy-in at the community level, leading to better outcomes and better adherence to policies that keep people safe.”

In Michigan, 229 school districts with over 756,000 students are requiring face masks this fall while 304 districts with over 496,000 students are not or haven’t released that information. Over 60% of K-12 students across the state are covered by a mask mandate.

Eight of Michigan’s 10 most populous counties have school mask mandates in place this fall. Saginaw County, which is the 11st most populous in the state, does not have a countywide order, but several schools have issued their own mask rules.

The Dickinson-Iron District Health Department in the Upper Peninsula is among the latest to issue countywide school mask mandates for the area it serves.

Hertel pointed out that health experts across the country have learned a lot about COVID-19 in the 19 months since the pandemic was declared, including how masks help reduce the spread and how transmission of the illness differs in indoor or outdoor settings.

She added that three vaccines are available to students age 12 and older.

“As we face down the Delta variant and continue our economic jumpstart, every Michigander knows that if you want to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from COVID, you should get your vaccine and wear a mask in high-transmission environments,” Hertel wrote. “It’s that simple.”

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