Citing improving conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northwestern Michigan Department of Health announced that the first amended ordinance that requires the wearing of masks in school settings will be lifted in a week, with a cancellation. effective at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, February 22. 17.
Although the lifting of the mandate will only take effect for a week, the announcement was made by health worker Lisa Peacock and medical director Dr Josh Meyerson on February 10 to give headteachers a advance notice before lifting the public health order so that they have time to inform their school boards, prepare staff, make any necessary policy changes, and educate families and their communities.
This view was voiced as preferable by many head teachers across the jurisdiction in weekly discussions with headteachers.
“The purpose of the first amended order was to protect students, school staff as well as the community and was originally issued on August 27, 2021 and amended on November 9, 2021,” Peacock said. medical evidence and support as well as current and ongoing COVID-19 epidemic conditions, including rapidly growing case and positivity rates, increasing and continued pressure on healthcare capacity, and a student population that does not was largely unvaccinated with no opportunity to vaccinate younger school-aged children who were not yet eligible. »
In response, Petoskey Public Schools will make masking optional inside all school buildings, Superintendent Chris Parker said in an emailed letter to district staff, students and parents Thursday. .
“This change will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on February 18, 2022,” Parker said. “COVID testing for athletics and extracurricular performance will also end on February 18, 2022. Masks on school buses and in other school vehicles will still be required, per the federal transportation order.”
Parker said the school district will continue to update the number of COVID-19 cases by building on the district’s website, and parents are encouraged to monitor the district’s website at www.petoskeyschools.org and make decisions about whether to direct their children to the mask. Therefore.
“We will continue to offer morning walk-in testing at the Spitler Administration Building,” Parker said. “Again, we ask parents to keep sick children at home.”
In a letter to students, staff and parents in the district, Charlevoix Public Schools Superintendent Mike Ritter said that starting Friday, Feb. 18, Charlevoix Public Schools will also make masking optional indoors. school buildings.
“This is consistent with protocols our school board approved on July 26, 2021, prior to the Health Department‘s mask mandate which came in August 2021,” the letter reads.
Ritter said the protocol stipulated that public schools in Charlevoix would follow the example of the Ministry of Health and not mandate the wearing of masks on school premises. However, in accordance with CDC and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recommendations, unvaccinated students, staff, and visitors are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings indoors.
“We will work to continue a positive culture for those who continue to mask themselves,” Ritter said.
Additionally, public schools in Charlevoix will not require COVID-19 testing to participate in extracurricular activities and sports, while masks on school buses and in other school vehicles will still be required per the federal order. on transportation, Ritter said.
Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little, in a letter sent to school district members, said the district will now regain control of decisions regarding protocols for COVID-related matters.
“The school board decided in December, when the order expired, that students in grades 5 through 12 would transition to a ‘mask recommended but not required’ status,” Little said. “With this change, the contact tracing process and required testing of athletes will also end. Masking on buses will still be required as it is governed by federal law.”
Little said he recommended to the school board that protocols for kindergarten through fourth graders should mirror the same procedures as middle and high school students and move to “mask recommended but not required” on Feb. 18. .
“The board will vote on this change at its normally scheduled board meeting on Monday, February 14,” Little said. “I will send an update to the community on this decision next week. It is important to note that, in accordance with board policy, the administration retains the ability to put protocols in place if unforeseen threats to the health and/or safety emerging in the future.”
Boyne City Public Schools will also continue to offer optional COVID-19 testing as a service to students and staff for several more weeks, Little said.
“In my opinion, it is better to test and know than to wonder and guess about one’s health,” he said.
Additionally, the Boyne City Public Schools District recommends parents keep a student outdoors for five days after they test positive for COVID-19.
“As we practice with other illnesses, students should only return to school if they have no fever or symptoms for 24 hours,” Little said.
“As we begin the first stage of transitioning out of this phase of school/health department based responsibilities for COVID-related decisions and into a fully parent-based decision-making mindset, I urge parents to consider the Golden Rule, a wisdom that has no age: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'” Little said. “When considering sending your child to school who may have mild symptoms, please ask yourself, would you want another parent to send their child with these same symptoms?
“If we all err on the side of caution when it comes to health issues, as a community we all benefit.”
The ongoing review of local, regional and state data has revealed the following information that officials say supports the decision to overturn the emergency order:
- Continued weekly monitoring of pandemic risk indicators showing that weekly cases per 100,000 population have declined 67% statewide over the past three weeks and 56% in the Traverse City Michigan Economic Recovery Region (MERC ).
- Although an increase in hospitalizations has generally followed a similar pattern to cases in previous surges, hospitalizations have increased, but not as sharply as cases in the recent surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19. Modeling projections estimate that an increase in deaths will also follow, but are also not expected to increase as sharply as previous surges and this is expected to continue to become evident over the next 1-2 weeks.
- Parents have had ample opportunity to have their eligible school-aged children vaccinated and there are still appointments available in all counties for first doses, second doses or boosters of COVID-19. In the jurisdiction of the Northwest Michigan Health Department, 23% of 5-11 year olds and 46% of 12-15 year olds have received at least one vaccine.
- Regular discussions with hospital partners reveal that several elements of healthcare capacity are in the early stages of improvement, including staffing shortages and absences, general and critical care capacity, and inpatient volume. for COVID-19.
- There is now access to additional tools and strategies to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, including widespread vaccination opportunities, increased availability of testing both at home and at community sites, wide access to masks effective and public health information for the general public. The health department continues to prioritize equitable access to these protective resources.
In general, due to changing pandemic conditions, the public health response of local, state and national agencies is shifting its focus from mandates and restrictions to individual responsibilities for personal protection.
One example is the recent transition from universal case investigation and contact tracing, which opens up resources for more effective targeted strategies in high-risk settings and outbreak situations.
“As we have discussed in the past, a public health emergency order is only a temporary strategy, exercised only when other methods of protecting public health have not been possible or effective,” noted Peacock.
Dr. Meyerson stressed that the lifting of the order is not meant to indicate that masking is no longer important.
“Masking indoors and in crowded settings continues to be recommended by leading health authorities and schools are urged to maintain masking policies, particularly when transmission levels remain high,” Meyerson said. “The CDC is offering key messages about proper wearing and choosing an appropriate mask. Masking on buses and other public transportation continues to be a federal requirement.”
The health department continues to provide easy and free access to the COVID-19 vaccine in all of its counties. Appointments and walk-in clinics are available by visiting www.nwhealth.org. Additionally, while supplies last, the Department of Health is distributing free KN95 masks and home testing to all offices in counties Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego.
Individuals are encouraged to get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and to self-isolate while sick or if they test positive. Free and easily accessible testing sites are located throughout the health department’s jurisdiction.
Additionally, health department professionals are available to help school families and any other members of the community answer any questions they may have about COVID-19 symptoms, vaccinations, or what to do next. they are exposed to coronavirus and need to isolate or quarantine.
To discuss health concerns with Health Department staff during regular business hours, call (800) 386-5959.