Lives at stake, health officials call for statewide K-12 mask warrant
An angry resident suggested last week that the Barry-Eaton district health worker be placed in a gas chamber, and a citizen’s arrest was attempted at a public meeting.
There have also been death threats – all because health officials have put in place mask requirements for students in K-12 schools to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s awful,” said Nick Derusha, president of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health.
“Many of the public health measures that we know will help keep people safe have been politicized throughout the pandemic – from vaccinations to wearing masks – and it brings out the worst in people.”
Following:You told us about the hard-to-find COVID-19 school dashboards. We found them.
Following:CDC Approves Pfizer COVID-19 Booster Injections for Essential Workers, 65+, Others
The vitriol has been amplified even more now that the state legislature has passed a budget bill that includes a provision that would withhold state funding for public health services if local health services enact or enforce rules. mask for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students starting October 1.
This is putting increasing pressure on school and health service leaders, said Norm Hess, executive director of the local public health association.
“Conditions continue to deteriorate and have become even more volatile at the local level,” he said on Friday, the same day the association sent a second appeal to Elizabeth Hertel, director of the health department of the ‘State, arguing for a statewide school mask mandate.
Following:Michigan Budget Bill Bans State COVID-19 Vaccine Warrants, Many Local School Mask Rules
Following:Key leader in Michigan’s COVID-19 fight Dr. Joneigh Khaldun to resign
“One of the reasons the state told us it was better to have local ordinances is the idea that people would be more likely to comply with a local ordinance than a local ordinance. statewide, but we don’t find that to be true. “
The Dickinson-Iron District Health Department announced on Friday it had “reluctantly” rescinded his term as a school mask. Indeed, if the budget bill is signed as is by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the department will not be able to pay for essential public health services such as infectious disease control, vaccinations, hearing screenings and vision services.
“Without this funding, we will lose important programs as well as several staff positions,” said Daren Deyaert, district health officer of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department.
“It was a very difficult decision to be forced to choose between what is best for the current public health situation versus the future of our essential public health programs which will hopefully continue to serve our community. for the coming years.”
Following:Exhaustion, regret in hospital hallways as COVID-19 continues to threaten Michigan
Following:Former Detroit Red Wings goalie Manny Legace details COVID-19 ordeal: “I was extremely scared”
Whitmer’s office said it would approve the budget, but its spokesperson Bobby Leddy said on Friday it would not come at the expense of public health.
“Gov. Whitmer has always said she will protect life-saving public health measures and oppose any attempt to undermine or restrict basic rescue actions throughout this pandemic, ”Leddy said.
“We are still completing a thorough legal review and will have more to say when the governor signs this legislation next week, but this dangerous language that ties the hands of public health professionals is unconstitutional and the governor will declare it unenforceable. of Michigan will not withhold funding from local health departments for the implementation of universal mask policies or quarantine protocols at local schools that are designed to keep students safe so they can continue to learn in person . “
Although Whitmer’s office has pledged to maintain funding for local health services, she has said in recent weeks that her administration is not considering any broad pandemic mandate – whether for COVID-19 vaccines or masks in hospitals. schools.
These decisions, she said, should be made by local health departments and school districts – even when angry parents storm public meetings, threatening health officials and school leaders. , even when unmasked students force their way into schools, claiming the mandates are unenforceable.
“The state’s approach to bringing this down to the local level is not going well,” Derusha said. “It puts local health workers and local school principals in an impossible position that we are ill-equipped to handle and it should not be done that way. It is a statewide problem. . The state should take action here. “
This is especially true, he said, as rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise and a growing number of coronavirus outbreaks are identified among schoolchildren.
K-12 schools were the source of the highest number of coronavirus outbreaks statewide last week – with 218 new and ongoing outbreaks as of September 20, the Department of Health reported. His data showed greater transmission in schools where masks were not required.
Each day over the past week, more than 315 Michigan children under the age of 12 were newly diagnosed with the virus – that’s an increase of 80 cases in children per day over the previous week. Statewide, children between the ages of 10 and 19 have the highest infection rate, according to health department data.
And hospitalizations among children are also on the rise. As of Friday, 35 children with suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus had been admitted for treatment in hospitals in the state. This compares to just 13 children hospitalized with suspected or confirmed cases two months ago.
Following:COVID-19 cases in Michigan schools have doubled in one week: where there are outbreaks
Following:Whitmer: “No plans for broad mandates” around vaccines and masks in schools
Despite these trends, a statewide mask mandate is not “warranted at this time,” said Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
“We are seeing increases, but there is no indication of a peak that would require action under the public health code,” Sutfin said in an email to the Free Press.
“Local health services are in the best position to determine local needs. We deeply sympathize with local health workers across the state doing their job and what they think is right to protect their communities. While we support the right of everyone to express their opinion in dissent, local officials do not deserve to be threatened in any way, especially when the measures they take are aimed at protecting the health and safety of all. residents of their community.
“To date, nearly 65% of students in traditional public schools are protected by the mask advice we have offered. We thank the schools and local health departments who have adopted this simple and effective protective measure and encourage others to follow suit to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our state. ”
Derusha said local health workers need more support than that.
Their jobs are threatened by county commissions. Their lives are threatened and their families are harassed.
“We live in these communities that we serve,” said Derusha, who is also the health officer of the LMAS district health department, which includes Luce, Mackinac, Algiers and Schoolcraft counties. “People know where we live. They know where we work.”
Some of his colleagues installed security systems in their homes, and some had to call the police when threatened. Many have retired or have left public health altogether since the start of the pandemic.
“It’s scary,” he said.
Derusha hopes this latest appeal to Hertel will not be ignored either. The first letter, sent on September 8, was never even recognized.
“It makes us feel abandoned,” he said. “We have done everything in our power to keep our citizens safe. And at this point, this is clearly a statewide issue.
“I am concerned that the local situation will only get worse and more people will fall ill.”
Vic Michaels, a deputy superintendent for the Archdiocese of Detroit who oversees COVID-19 policies for 87 Catholic or private schools in six counties, said it had also been a tough time for principals trying to scour the boards health panel on masks and the strong opinions of frustrated parents.
If the state budget provision prohibiting local health departments from imposing mask requirements is enacted, it places the burden on principals.
“Asking a manager who has no training in health, like health services do, to make this decision is not fair,” he said. “We need to work with our health services… and rely on their advice on whether a school should be covered up or not.
Contact Kristen Shamus: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.
Subscribe to the free press.