Masks encouraged for all in Michigan classes, but don’t expect a mandate

The state’s top medical officer called on Michigan superintendents to require students of all ages to wear a mask while attending classes in person.

But the state still won’t mandate such an action, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a press conference Friday morning.

“Even younger children can and should be taught to wear a mask when they are indoors or within six feet of others,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, told reporters.

Khaldun made that recommendation during a press conference at which Whitmer announced that schools, low-income residents, seniors, and homeless shelters would benefit from MI Mask Aid, which is providing four million masks to Michigan residents who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The new initiative is part of a partnership of the state, Ford Motor Co., and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Whitmer said.

Asked whether the state would change course and require masks worn by students, Whitmer said no. Some schools in Michigan are not requiring all students to wear masks.

“We have required masks for certain (ages). We strongly encourage masks for everyone, though. I hope that parents and students and teachers and administrators alike are hearing this,” Whitmer said. “We know that mask wearing is a cultural change we need to make. It’s not easy to make it quickly, but the cost of this pandemic is necessitating that we do.”

The state’s return to school plan requires masks be worn by students in preschool through grade 12 while they’re on school buses or in public areas, such as hallways and cafeterias. Students in grades 6-12 are required to wear masks inside the classroom. But students in lower grades aren’t required to wear masks in the classroom, if they remain with the same group of students.

The press conference was held the day before the Michigan Senate holds a rare Saturday session to try to approve legislation related to the reopening of schools. Whitmer said negotiations between her office and legislative leaders will likely produce a deal within 24 hours. 

Bridge Michigan reported Thursday that the legislation is expected not to include a provision passed by the state House that would require in-person learning for students in grades K-5.

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