Berrien orders masks in school; docs issue vaccination plea

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LANSING — Berrien County in southwestern Michigan on Wednesday ordered masking inside all schools and hospitals officials across the state pleaded with people to get vaccinated, pointing to a rapid increase in COVID-19 transmission over the past month.

Once Washtenaw County follows suit, nine of 83 counties — including many with the largest populations — will require face coverings in schools. The office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has refrained from reinstating a statewide mandate that was in place last academic year, said mask policies cover or will cover at least 57% of kids in traditional public schools.

Berrien’s order applies to all educational settings, including colleges and child care centers. In their order, acting health officer Courtney Davis and medical director Rex Cabaltica cited a four-fold rise in coronavirus cases in August compared with July and noted only 35% of 12- to 19-year-olds are vaccinated.

“Our top priority is keeping students in school for in-person learning,” Davis said in a statement, adding that “masking is one of the best defenses against COVID-19 transmission.”

A spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County Health Department confirmed it will issue a mask order on Thursday. Nine of 10 K-12 districts in the state’s sixth-largest county already have some type of requirements, but policies are more mixed among private schools, Susan Ringler Cerniglia said.

Though polling shows public support for school mask mandates, angry parents have shown up at county commission and school board meetings to complain.

The state reported roughly 4,500 new virus cases over two days and 90 deaths, including 36 older ones from a records review. The seven-day average as of Monday, 2,198, was up from 1,548 two weeks earlier, according to Johns Hopkins University. The infection rate was lower than in all but three states but was quadruple what it was about a month ago.

The daily average number of deaths, 20.3, had nearly doubled from mid-August.

In an open letter, medical officers and others from 21 hospital systems appealed to residents to get a shot amid Michigan’s fourth surge. They said frontline workers are disheartened and frustrated to see so many unvaccinated people being hospitalized and dying.

“The vaccine is safe and effective,” they wrote. “You trust us when you’re sick, when you have an emergency or when you have a chronic health need. Please trust us now when we guide you to get this vaccine.”

About 59% of Michigan residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the federal government.

For most people, COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including death.

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