Michigan stops urging masks in schools, other public places

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LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration on Wednesday stopped recommending masks be worn inside schools and other public places to curb COVID-19 in Michigan, pointing to a drop in cases and hospitalizations.

The step by the state health department came days after all 10 county health agencies with K-12 masking requirements rescinded them, effective by the end of the month. They cover about 39% of the state’s population.

“This is good news for Michigan. While Michigan hasn’t had statewide mask policies since last June, this updated guidance will underscore that we are getting back to normal,” the Democratic governor said.

The state continues to urge masking in high-risk congregate settings, like health care facilities and jails, and by people in isolation or quarantine periods.

Also Wednesday, Whitmer signed legislation to spend $1.2 billion in federal aid to fight the coronavirus, including for understaffed health care providers to recruit and retain workers with bonuses.

The law allots $300 million for hospitals and nursing homes to award the financial incentives as they see fit, $150 million to continue testing and screening in schools, and $367 million to speed processing at labs.

The measure received overwhelming approval from the GOP-led Legislature.

It includes $100 million for early treatment of patients with therapeutics to blunt the worst effects of the virus and $70 million in grants to adult foster care facilities and homes for the aged. There is $39 million for nursing homes to improve infection controls.

Cases and hospitalizations have been declining from recent pandemic highs. The number of hospitalized adults with confirmed cases in Michigan, about 1,800, was down from nearly 4,600 a month ago. The seven-day daily average of new infections was roughly 2,200, 12% of the peak.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said the state is in “recovery,” a post-surge phase. The other two newly announced phases are “response” — when the public might be advised to increase masking, testing and social distancing — and “readiness,” when a new surge is expected and officials communicate more with the public about risks.

“Individuals and families should assess their own risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission and make choices about when it makes sense to wear masks,” state health director Elizabeth Hertel said. “We want to make sure individuals and local communities have the information and tools they need to make choices for their families based on their personal situation and local community conditions.”

The Michigan Republican Party called the changed mask guidance a “win” for students and a “true testament to the power of parents’ voices,” but accused the governor of acting “solely out of fear during an election year.”

The state continues to recommend all residents ages 5 and older be vaccinated. About 62% are fully vaccinated.

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