Study: Michigan school districts without mask mandates have more COVID-19 cases

Grade school children are seeing big increases in COVID-19 cases.

"Case rates among the school-age population, 5- to18-year-olds, have really been seeing the steepest rises in the state," said Marisa Eisenberg, an associate professor of complex systems and epidemiology at the University of Michigan.

RELATED: More than half of all Michigan K-12 students attend schools wheres masks are mandated

So, researchers looked at data from August and September to see what was driving this increase.

"We had some data on mask rules in school districts across Michigan and we linked that up to case data," Eisenberg said. "What we found is that districts that did not have mask requirements are experiencing higher case rates than those that do."

The researchers said the conclusion isn't surprising.

"We’ve known for a long time that masks are an important piece of the prevention strategy," Eisenberg said.

Read More: Parent groups in Michigan pressing health department to mandate masks in all schools

School mask mandates have ignited fierce debates across the state.

FOX 2 reached out to county officials to get their input. Wayne and Oakland counties have mask mandates in K-12 schools. Macomb County does not.

"Along with the Macomb Intermediate School District as well as Macomb County school districts, we are working to promote a safe educational environment. As we have in the past, we’ll continue to work with these partners and monitor Macomb County schools and act accordingly," officials with Macomb County said.

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office also provided a statement regarding masks in schools.

The statement read in part: "As the science shows and the governor believes, the safe and effective vaccine is the best tool to protect older students, and smart mask policies are important to keep students in lower grades safe until a vaccine is approved for them."

The researchers said they will continue looking at the data throughout the school year. They hope the findings will help bring infection rates down.