Washtenaw County preps mask mandate amid ‘high’ COVID transmission level

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 file photo, Students, some wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla. President Joe Biden has called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona, praising them for doing what he called the right thing after their respective boards implemented mask requirements in defiance of their Republican governors amid growing COVID-19 infections. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File) (Chris O'Meara, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ANN ARBOR – Schools across Michigan, including Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University of Michigan, started classes on Monday. The start of the new school year coincides with rising COVID cases as students and teachers head back into the classroom.

On Aug. 26, Washtenaw County reached a “high” level of community spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, Washtenaw County Health Department officials are finalizing the details of a countywide mask mandate that’s set to be announced later this week and implemented after Labor Day weekend.

“We had said in our school plans that once we reached a ‘high’ level of transmission that we would consider an order,” said Health Department spokeswoman Susan Ringler-Cerniglia.

Watch: University of Michigan students adjust to COVID-19 guidelines

She said the Health Department has been working closely with local school districts, with a majority of public schools implementing mask requirements for students and staff.

Some, like Manchester Community Schools, have yet to declare a mask mandate.

“It’s come to this and we need to move forward,” said Ringler-Cerniglia. “Of course that requires more coordination and legal review and making sure we’re doing the right thing.”

She said the Health Department has heard from a number of Manchester parents on both sides of the mask debate. But with rising cases due to the delta variant, including breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals, Ringler-Cerniglia said public health remains the department’s top priority.

“There’s not a lot of legitimate reasons at this point to be protesting masks,” she said.

On Aug. 12, the Health Department announced that more than 70% of residents age 16 and up have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Ringler-Cerniglia said the department also saw a slight increase in vaccinations in August.

She said this was in part due to people who had waited to see how the vaccine impacted their friends, family and acquaintances, and people who reported feeling vulnerable with rising cases and the presence of the delta variant.

For more information about COVID in Washtenaw County, where to get vaccinated and who’s eligible to receive a booster shot, visit the Health Department’s website.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.