Sunday, September 26, 2021

Ingham County requires masks, isolation policies in K-12 classrooms

September 2, 2021
<p>Campus on Sept. 18, 2020. MSU has put up large posters around campus to encourage students and the community to practice social distancing and to wear masks.</p>

Campus on Sept. 18, 2020. MSU has put up large posters around campus to encourage students and the community to practice social distancing and to wear masks.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Following a 515% increase in COVID-19 cases in people aged 0-17, Ingham County imposed two emergency orders involving mask mandates for all educational faculty and students in the county and requiring specific policy towards quarantine after contact with a positive COVID case. 

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2021, Ingham County Health Department issued two emergency COVID orders. The triple-digit increase can be partially attributed to the return of students to in-person learning in the last two weeks, thus raising the number of cases in K-12 students. 

While 97% of education institutions in Ingham County have already issued their own mask mandates, preschools, youth groups, private schools and daycare centers have had the option to make their own decisions about masks. 

Outside of educational institutions, masks are a recommendation for vaccinated people, and mandatory for the unvaccinated. However, they are now a requirement for everyone in an educational facility, regardless of vaccination status. 

Many children in the 0-17 age bracket remain too young to receive vaccinations at all, and thus are more vulnerable to the virus than anyone 12 and up, who is eligible for the vaccine. These children, who are in relatively close quarters in the classroom, can spread aerosol droplets containing the virus. These droplets can be mitigated by masks. Mandating masks prevents children and faculty who might be asymptomatic from spreading the virus, as well. 

Additionally, the second emergency order mandates that schools create specific isolation policies when students or faculty come into contact with positive COVID cases, close contacts or household exposure. 

Throughout the nation, reactions to mask mandates have ranged from enthusiasm, to passivity, to outright rage. Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail says this about expected reactions from the community. 

“It’s very polarizing, but it’s the right thing to do,” Vail said.

Vail said that the second order on isolation policy will affect students and schools more than the mask policy. 

Vail said her goal is to keep kids at school, and therefore plans to do everything she can to limit in-school transmissions. Both of Ingham County’s major health systems, McLaren and Sparrow Hospitals, have reported concern in healthcare capacity and in pediatric cases, and kids are already beginning to miss school. 

Therefore, Vail believes that these orders are necessary to protect Ingham County’s children. 

These orders don’t directly affect MSU students, as university policy already contains a mask mandate and specific isolation policy after contact with cases. University spokesperson Dan Olsen said that the university policy mirrors Ingham County’s COVID policy, and even goes a bit further. 

However, Vail says that the community can help these rising cases among children by wearing masks in crowded places. 

According to the press release, these orders are firmly rooted in science and evidence-based research. The orders will be in place until further notice.

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