Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Ingham County rescinds emergency order requiring masks in educational institutions

February 10, 2022
<p>Volunteer and retired paramedic Esther Perez runs down a list of information and guidelines with MSU researcher Hunter Pierson before he gets the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 22, 2022. </p><p>“I think the most important thing is if we don&#x27;t volunteer and get these done, we won&#x27;t protect the country, so I try to volunteer for every one of these I can. The more people we have, the more shots in arms, the sooner we get away from this virus and back to safety,” Perez said.</p>

Volunteer and retired paramedic Esther Perez runs down a list of information and guidelines with MSU researcher Hunter Pierson before he gets the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 22, 2022.

“I think the most important thing is if we don't volunteer and get these done, we won't protect the country, so I try to volunteer for every one of these I can. The more people we have, the more shots in arms, the sooner we get away from this virus and back to safety,” Perez said.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

The Ingham County Health Department, or ICHD, announced that the mask mandate requiring masks in educational institutions will be repealed, effective at midnight Feb. 19.

Another order, detailing quarantine and isolation procedures for close contacts in school settings, is also set to be repealed.

The repeals come after research has shown that cases have decreased by 78% in Ingham County. 

“We are at a point in this pandemic in which public health strategies will begin to shift more towards personal responsibility as we learn to live with COVID-19 long term,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said in a press release. 

ICHD still strongly recommends wearing masks while indoors,  as does the CDC, particularly in crowded settings, and in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status. 

Vail addressed concerns related to COVID-19 in Ingham County at a press conference Tuesday.

Ingham County still accounts for a little over 18,000 COVID-19 cases for the year, Vail said.

This large number is due to the Omicron variant, which has hit its peak and is decreasing in Ingham County. As the pandemic is starting to enter a transition stage, racial disparities and vaccine hesitancy remain issues. 

“You can pretty much say that the Omicron surge has just about ended in Ingham County,” Vail said, noting that positive COVID-19 case numbers have dropped back down to where they were before Omicron hit Michigan. “These numbers should continue to trend on down, and hopefully we’ll get down below these baseline numbers.”

Vail continued to encourage the vaccine and the booster shot.

“The effectiveness of the vaccine against serious illness, hospitalization and death is still very remarkable,” she said.

Vail explained while many had originally hoped for the vaccine to prevent COVID-19 cases completely, the fact breakthrough cases are much less severe than cases in unvaccinated people is extremely important. 

“(It’s) really a critical thing for a vaccine to be doing,” Vail said.

However, the fact the vaccine isn’t preventing COVID-19 transmissions in the way public health experts had hoped for signals a transition in the course of the pandemic. 

“We had hoped that it would prevent infections and that we would get to herd immunity, (but) it looks like COVID is going to become endemic, and we’re going to have to learn to live with this virus, and in that endemic stage, it should be very manageable,” Vail said.

A virus becomes endemic when the level of infection is consistently maintained at a baseline level, such as the flu. 

Racial disparities have existed throughout the pandemic, with the burden falling disproportionately on Black residents, as they’ve tested positive at much higher numbers than white residents. 

Many attempts have been made to address this disparity federally, such as the creation of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, on which former Chief Deputy Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Joneigh Khaldun served. 

However, numbers in Ingham County show the divide is as drastic as ever. 

“That is an … almost 70% percent difference between our Caucasian population and our African-American population in terms of ... (a) disproportionate burden of illness,” Vail said.

While death rates have been dropping this year for the white population in Ingham County, they’ve risen both for Black and Hispanic populations, and the county continues to find ways to address this.

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Though the Omicron surge has essentially ended in Ingham County, Vail wants residents to proceed with caution, pointing to the fact there are animal reservoirs, such as whitetail deer, who have contracted the virus. Eradication and herd immunity become much more difficult when animal species can continue to reintroduce the virus. 

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