Berrien County Health Department mandates masks in schools

NOW: Berrien County Health Department mandates masks in schools

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich.-- The Berrien County Health Department declaring a public health order today, where all K-12 students, faculty and staff members inside school buildings, across the county, are now required to wear face masks when classes start up.

Over the last 6 weeks, Berrien County has experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases, causing it to move into the “high transmission” category. For this reason, the Health Departments Communications Manager Gillian Conrad said issuing a public health order to require face masks in school with few exceptions, is necessary.

“We do not see that trend reversing. We have about 167 cases per 100,000 population, that is our rate, as well as a percent of positive tests at about 12.7% positivity,” Berrien County Health Department Communications Manager Gillian Conrad said. “We know that we need to step in and layer back on some mitigation strategies if we want to slow the spread of Covid-19, especially on our school settings.”

The majority of districts haven’t started the school year yet, but for the ones that have, they’re also positive cases flowing in.

“We’ve already seen handfuls of positive cases even on the first day of school that have resulted in quarantines for many other children and classmates,” Conrad said.

Coloma Community Schools have only been back in the classroom for three days, and initially weren’t requiring masks indoors.

“We had summer school program running, we had our athletic programs running all summer and we didn’t have any cases so we felt confident with the transmission rates low that that was the right thing for us to do,” Coloma Schools Superintendent Dave Ehlers said.

Superintendent Dave Ehlers said he’s not upset or angry with the new order being enforced, but that he was actually was expecting it.

“I wasn’t surprised. I mean we meet with them regularly; we’ve been monitoring the data that they monitor. I think it was anticipated that at some point there would be, whatever that number was, there would be a number where they felt they needed to take action and do something,” Ehlers said. “Looking at the data from the county there’s always that concern that somehow that’s going to infiltrate into the school because we saw it last year.”

In a letter to students and parents at Brandywine Community Schools, Superintendent Karen Weimer said:

“Per our Return to Learn plan, the district will comply with any and all local, state and federal mandates/orders...the order will remain in effect until the county transmission levels have stabilized in moderate or low categories for a period of 21 consecutive days and no increases in hospitalizations or deaths have been observed during that same period of time...thank you for your support as we continue to respond to these evolving events as a school community.”

While mask wearing in schools has been a touchy subject for many parents and students, both health and school officials alike hope people can be more understanding.

“Nobody wanted to be in this position with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, 18 months after we’ve started this. But our goal is to keep children in the classroom learning this year,” Conrad said.

“There’s going to be some that are going to be upset obviously, and how they handle it I don’t know. We have to enforce the orders. I hope some parents take a deep breath and decide to send their kids to school and we know we can do a lot better job than anything being done outside of school,” Ehlers said.

The mask order is in effect starting next Monday, September 6.

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