The Allegan County Health Department today announced it has rescinded its school mask order over fears continuing the policy could result in loss of state revenue.
The Health Department in August issued an order for all school districts to require masks for all students in grades K-6 because children at those ages are not eligible for vaccines.
The state budget for next year was signed Thursday and it included language that health departments could lose funding if Covid emergency orders are in place as of Oct. 1.
In a press release today, the Health Department said, “The Allegan County Health Department (ACHD) regretfully rescinds the public health order requiring the use of masks for individuals in kindergarten through grade 6 educational settings – or face a loss of over $1 million in our total budget.”
The budget’s language threatens essential public health funding for services such as infectious disease control, public water supply,immunizations and on-site sewage management.
Allegan County Health Officer Angelique Joynes, who has been under considerable political pressure, said in the release, “The decision to rescind the K-6 Mask Requirement was not made lightly and has challenged us ethically, professionally and personally. However, we cannot risk our essential local public health services funding, which is around $1 million of our total budget and provides the ability for us to continue to offer those services.”
Wayland Union Schools Supt. Dr. Christina Hinds, in a letter to parents today, said, “Beginning tomorrow (Oct. 1), face masks are recommended, yet not longer required while in a school building. The change in the county order does not impact the federal mandate concerning public transportation and masks are still required to be worn while on a school bus.”
Hinds said the new order, which took effect Thursday afternoon, means that quarantines will be required for confirmed and probable Covid cases and close contacts. She said at Monday night’s work session that no quarantines had been issued this year since school started, adding, “proper wearing of face masks does impact quarantine decisions.”
Martin Supt. Brooke Ballee-Stone said, “After careful deliberation with all area superintendents, Martin will be joining the county schools in making masks “highly recommended but optional” during school hours for students and employees starting tomorrow.”
The Barry-Eaton District Health Department also has decided to rescind its mask order, which applied to all students and staff, effective at one minute before midnight Thursday.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who signed the state budget, wrote in a letter addressed to state lawmakers, “The Public Health code gives health officials the tools they need to protect people from epidemic diseases like COVID-19. The legislature cannot unwind the Public Health Code in the budget bill or un-appropriate funds because they take issue with the actions of local health departments.”
Regardless, the Allegan County Health Department is making the mask order change. Though it was noted that a mask mandate would not threaten funding if the local County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to support the emergency orders. The Allegan County Board voted 6-1 to support rescinding the mask order.