State drops mask recommendations for most indoor public settings, K-12 schools

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The Detroit News
Feb. 16, 2022
Beth LeBlanc 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has updated its mask guidance to drop public health advisories regarding mask usage in most indoor public settings and K-12 schools as the state enters a “post-surge recovery phase.”

But the department said the public still is recommended to wear masks in high-risk congregate care settings, including health care facilities, long-term care facilities and jails.

Additionally, the department said all individuals in isolation and quarantine should wear masks, and individuals should assess their own risk when determining where and when to wear a mask in other circumstances.

The announcement came less than a week after Michigan’s remaining county health departments with mask mandates for K-12 schools announced plans to withdraw them by the end of the month. The state and local health guidance still allows school districts to implement mask mandates for their buildings.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Wednesday’s announcement “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,” Whitmer said. “Let’s keep working together to build on our momentum so we can keep our kids learning in person.”

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said she expected more people to stop wearing masks as the nation’s case count decreases but said people should “have the flexibility to wear one if they so choose.”

“There are times where we do want people to continue to wear a mask if they are in the 10 days after they’ve been diagnosed with COVID,” Walensky said.

The Department of Health and Human Services said the reason for the change in guidance was in part a response to a drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as the state enters what the department called a “post-surge, recovery phase.”

Michigan’s hospitalization numbers have been dropping in recent weeks, from a record 4,580 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations on Jan. 10 to the most recent total Wednesday of 1,758 adults. The state’s percent positive rate also has shown decreases — from about 21% of COVID-19 tests coming back positive the last week of January to 18.5% between Feb. 1-7.

“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,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“We continue to strongly urge all residents ages 5 and older get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and to get boosted when eligible as the vaccine continues to be our best defense against the virus.”

In the future, Michigan’s recommendations will depend on whether the state is in one of three phases: response, recovery or readiness.

The response phase will require a “rapid response to a surge” at the local and state level, including mask or testing advisories, according to Wednesday’s statement. The recovery phase will be considered “post-surge” when no pending resurgence is expected but conditions are monitored. And the readiness phase will be triggered when a surge in cases and hospitalizations is expected and is communicated to the public.

Michigan has been in a response phase for the past several months, said Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian.

“With the continued decline in cases and hospitalizations, we are now entering a post-surge, recovery phase,” Bagdasarian said. “As we move through the phases of our COVID-19 response our recommendations will be updated to reflect the current status of transmission, but we will continue to prioritize public health and promote health and wellness for all families and communities.”

The state continued to recommend Michigan residents stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, isolate or quarantine when someone is sick with COVID-19 or was exposed to it, and test if someone is exposed to COVID-19 or has symptoms. Those who do test positive for COVID-19 should ask their doctors about their eligibility for therapeutics for treatment, the state said.

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