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Ingham County Health Officer Mandates Masks In Schools, Day Cares

Charlotte May
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said the rules are a response to the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant.

Masks will be required in all indoor educational settings across Ingham County under a health order that takes effect after Labor Day.

The emergency order issued by Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail applies to public and private schools, as well as day cares and camps. Students, staff, and visitors must comply regardless of their vaccination status unless they need to temporarily take off their masks to eat or drink.

The rules are a response to the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant, Vail said, noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported a five-fold increase of COVID-19 cases among children in the last month.

Those spreading cases put stress and hospitals and the community as a whole, Vail said.

"There's a ripple effect," Vail said. "When these kids are sick, they can infect a vulnerable parent or a vulnerable grandparent. When they are excluded from school either for a COVID case or COVID exposure, then we have parents that will be struggling with daycare issues."

Greater Lansing's largest school districts have already required face coverings and Vail says about 97% of the county's public school students attend districts with mask mandates. But some private schools and smaller districts haven't followed suit.

"We have a couple of districts that have not gotten there," Vail said. "And we are seeing problems in districts where we are seeing lots of kids excluded from schools because of quarantines, because of exposures, things like that, and this is going to put at risk in-person learning."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges universal indoor masking inside schools regardless of vaccination status.

Vail expects backlash to her latest order, but says the rules are necessary to protect kids while keeping in-person classrooms open.

“We aren't politicians, this isn't about politics for us," Vail said. "We're not harming anyone. Masks are not harmful. There's extensive science, about the effectiveness of masks."

Children under four are exempt from Ingham County's mask order, as are students whose learning would be negatively impacted by a mask because of a developmental disability. Vail also issued an order Thursday that sets quarantine and contact tracing requirements in response to COVID-19 exposure at schools.

About 35% of Ingham County residents between 12 and 19 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data updated Monday. The vaccines haven’t been approved for children under 12.

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