Washtenaw County issues mask mandate for schools while indoors

Washtenaw County has followed the same steps as Oakland County and Wayne County and is requiring all students, faculty, and staff to wear masks while indoors in schools within the county.

The Washtenaw County Health Department issued the mandate under a public health emergency order that requires masks while indoors and also requires isolation or quarantine. The county said it is now at high transmission levels and the mask requirement will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We are grateful to our local schools and districts that have already done the work to require masks and that continue to work closely with us on isolation and quarantine measures," says Jimena Loveluck, MSW, health officer with Washtenaw County Health Department. "Unfortunately, we are trending in the wrong direction, and it’s imperative that we use all of our tools to prevent and control COVID in educational settings and provide in-person learning as safely as possible."

RELATED: Oakland County health director says masks work, pointing to successes of 2020

The second order requires individuals in the county's educational institutions to isolate and quarantine as directed for illness or exposure to COVID-19. 

Both orders go into effect on Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 12 a.m., after the Labor Day holiday ends.

The mandate applies to all public, private, vocational, and charter schools that provide pre-K through 12th grade education in Washtenaw County. It also applies to all extra-curricular activities or athletics.

When the order does not apply

The order is not in place if the following is happening:

  • People are eating or drinking
  • Water sports like swimming or diving
  • People who are alone in a room
  • Children under the age of 4 (though masks are encouraged for children who are at least 2)
  • People with developmental conditions who would be inhibited during education
  • Vaccinated staff working with children who are hard of hearing or benefit from facial cues
  • Medical exemptions confirmed in writing from a doctor licensed in Michigan.

The order remains in effect until the community spread in the county is ‘moderate’ or lower for at least 14 straight days, or until further notice.

Both Oakland and Macomb County drew their line in the metaphorical sand last week when the former's health division ordered its schools would mandate masks. That decision drew protests. Macomb County's decision not to mandate masks, leaving the decision to local school boards, also drew protests - but for the opposite reason.

Wayne County ordered last week that masks are required for everyone in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Health officials have recommended masks as the most pragmatic tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19 in schools while maintaining in-person learning - a dynamic that most officials agree should be a priority for the fall and spring semesters.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has affirmed her choice to not order mask mandates across the state, arguing it should be a locally-made decision.