DETROIT – There has been a lot of confusion and worry over a line in the new state budget banning mask mandates.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said it’s unconstitutional and unenforceable, while some health departments have already done away with their mask mandates.
Read: Tracking Michigan school districts, colleges requiring masks for 2021-2022 school year
It’s another example of the politics of the pandemic bleeding into public health. The controversy has made things even more difficult for health officials trying to stop the spread.
As of Oct. 1, only five counties have rescinded their mask mandates or quarantine protocols, while the major counties in Metro Detroit have kept theirs in place following Whitmer’s guidance that the new language meant to withhold money from health departments that put mask mandates in place was unconstitutional and unenforceable.
University of Detroit Mercy professor emeritus of law Larry Dubin said the dispute is more political than constitutional.
“If you are threatening the funds that would go to public health departments in various counties, and they’re making their decisions, not based upon the health of the community, but the fear of not getting their funds based upon the law, if they perceive it, then that’s an important issue,” Dubin said. “And I think that certainly could end up in the courts for hopefully a quick determination of who’s right who’s wrong.”
The orders have also been confusing for struggling local health departments.
“It has made the decisions and the actions of local health officers even more difficult and it distracts from what they’re trying to do,” said Michigan Association for Local Public Health director Norm Hess. “And it’s costly when there are lawsuits. And I believe that in some instances, that’s the intention to create distraction and conditions, but it is astounding to me how politicized this has been.”
The governor’s office is standing firm that it is unconstitutional to tie funding to a ban on mandates. Her stance has been backed up by several lawyers from counties across the state, which said the state budget isn’t a state law and that this kind of thing is unenforceable.
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